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14 Princess Island Princess Holiday Cruise Reviews

We traveled on the Island Princess over the New Year's holiday, completing a "bucket list" item of seeing the Panama Canal. The Island Princess departed on Sunday, the 30th, along with five other cruise ships. Port ... Read More
We traveled on the Island Princess over the New Year's holiday, completing a "bucket list" item of seeing the Panama Canal. The Island Princess departed on Sunday, the 30th, along with five other cruise ships. Port Everglades was mobbed. We dropped our rental car off at the Avis located in the Port, and there were about 50 other customers waiting to board their shuttle bus that holds about 12 people. We found a cab, but with the traffic and security checks, it still took about 30 minutes to go about three miles. When we arrived at our terminal, it was a very crowded as we expected at 12:30, which was the initial boarding time. It took about an hour to go through check in and security and board the ship. HINT: If you do not want to stand in line, arrive at the ship after 2 PM for a 4 PM departure. There was no line in sight at that time. We were about an hour late departing the Port and it appeared that the five cruise ships in Port had the same departure time. Therefore, the "sail-away" party was concluded before we left the dock. Our itinerary called for two sea days before arriving in Aruba. The seas and wind were very rough. In fact, our cruise director, Richard Joseph, said it was the roughest he has seen it in two years. We were luckier than other passengers, and spared illness. Princess did a nice job with the New Year's Eve celebrations, which was a formal night. There were many choices...we experienced the Atrium and the Lido deck. The Atrium had a balloon drop and more classic entertainment. We stayed there until 11:30 and headed for the Lido deck, outdoor party. For just raining and being windy, there was a good, generally younger crowd. The cover band ICON was quite good throughout the cruise and DJ Mikey kept the crowd going. Streamers were handed out and thrown over string that was stretched over the upper deck. We danced until 1:30 AM, when the crowd started to retire. There was also a beautiful buffet on the Lido Deck. I will cover the ports and excursions separately in the port review section, but here is my overall observations of the cruise: PASSENGERS: On this cruise, it appeared the majority of passengers were over 65 years of age and retired. There are a lot of "slow walkers". Very few children on this cruise. The passengers are not as "well-heeled" as on Celebrity. Formal nights were most surprising. There were only a handful of men in tuxes or women in truly formal dresses. Most men were in sport coats and women in a casual dress. If you are looking for a more active or energetic cruise, this is not for you. We felt young at 56 and 58 years of age. FOOD: I don't expect much when feeding large groups, but the food quality was poor. We had anytime dining in the Bordeaux dining room. It did not matter...veal, chicken, beef...everything tasted the same. The only exception was the lobster. Don't bother with the NY strip steak, which everyone complained about at our table of ten. One fellow passenger equated the food with a high school cafeteria, and she was right. The Horizon Buffet suffered the same fate. The speciality restaurants were empty whenever we walked past them, and in ten days we did not talk to any fellow passengers who went to one. ENTERTAINMENT: We went to a few production shows which were good, the dancers much superior to the singers. "On the Bayou" had some fancy costumes. It was held in the Universal Theater and as a hint...arrive at least a half hour before show time. It's not as large as the Princess Theater and much of the seating is obstructed. "Piano Man" was also good in the Princess Theater. Hypnotist Kellie Karl was OK, but some of her subjects reacted so extremely, that you had to wonder if they were plants. "That 50's Night" was fun with a twist and hulahoop contest. Comedy Vocalist Diane Cousins was awful...we left; but believe it or not, not as awful as Billy Vader. I fell asleep after a few minutes. My husband said he lost track of his "jokes" and he kept repeating himself. We enjoyed the activities with the Cruise Director Staff: The Yes/No Gameshow, The Liar's Club, The International Crew Show, Peer Factor, and The Ultimate Deck Party. We also played some bingo and some difficult trivia. For the production shows...the 8 PM shows are the most crowded and you have to arrive early. SERVICE: The Cruise Director Staff was wonderful, mainly Mark and Toby. They are full of energy, and we were amazed how many hours of the day they are up and about. Our cabin steward was polite and had our room cleaned the minute we left for breakfast. However, this was our first cruise where I have to say the dining room staff was not up to par. Normally, the wait staff jokes and engage with the passengers. Yes, there were a few who did, but the majority were just doing their job, not enjoying their job. Not that I blame them as it has to be grueling. One item that disturbed us was the constant selling of products on the ship...even in the Horizon Buffet, there was selling of a Princess cookbook conducted table-to-table by a member of the wait staff. At every opportunity, Princess was trying to sell something. The spa was the worse in the selling of product. After a relaxing massage, you are then in for the hard sell. THE SHIP OVERALL: The Island Princess is in need an overhaul. It's getting tired and worn. While generally clean, it's a little shabby and neglected. The linens are getting thin, the windows were dirty, paint is sorely needed on the exterior of the ship, and a horrible sewer smell was present, especially in the aft areas of the ship. Also, there is a problem with the air conditioning on this ship. The entire cruise, we had the thermostat on the coolest setting possible, and the room was never really cool and humidity free. While the ship is in Alaska, the air may work, but not in hot and humid Panama. Princess excels at port lectures and Barb and Bill were wonderful. We attended every port lecture and they were very informative. They did a wonderful job talking about the Panama Canal while we were going thru it. DISEMBARKING: An unorganized mess. We opted for the self help off option. We had the first time in the group that met in the casino. The problem was that no one stayed in the casino awaiting the call to leave. The passengers hovered around the exit door, which resulted in the elevators and walkways being blocked. Hint to Princess...make everyone stay in the casino and not around the exit door. That way the elevators will not be blocked and people getting off the elevators can walk freely. It was a mess. We waited quite a while in customs, so don't scheudle your flight before 10:30 am. OTHER HINTS: Bring a power strip as there is only one outlet that is accessable. We purchased 36 hangers ($6.00 at Target) and they really helped us organize the cabin. Use the internet very early or very late. The service is very slow during busy times. At 75 cents a minute, you want to speed things up. Bring your own soap as the ship has cheap, small bad smelling bars. We purchased our cruise two weeks before sailing. We went thru cruisecompete.com. After registering, we had seven travel agents respond to our request with their pricing. We saved hundreds compared to the Princess website pricing. Booking at the last minute did not give us a choice in our cabin and we had to take an interior room, midship on level 10. However, it worked out fine on this cruise. We were rarely in the room, and with rough seas, being midship was a blessing. The port review section did not include a Panama Canal section, so here is my review of the Panama Canal: PANAMA CANAL: We did not take an excursion here, but stayed on the ship for the partial passage. We had sight of the Gatun Locks at about 5:30 AM from the Horizon Buffet. This area has windows that look out of the front of the ship. NOTE: We arrived here at 5 AM for front row seating at a table. If you arrive any later, you will not secure a seat by the window. We personally witnessed two arguments when people tried to cut in front of the folks who arrived early. We sat here versus outside as there is always a chance of rain...and sure enough, it did rain. We actually entered the lock about 6:30, as advertised the night before. The narration of the passage from Barb and Bill was wonderful. They explained everything that was going on...and there is quite a bit of action. The locks and the whole operation are truly a manmade miracle. We were in the lock system for an hour and a half. A reminder that if you do not take an excursion and remain on the ship, you will only complete one lock system in the Panama Canal. After exiting the Gatum Locks, you will anchor in Gatum Lock. (Those on excursions will travel by tender to shore for buses to their excursions. There is an excursion for $179 that provides a ferry boat to take you thru the entire Panama Canal. There are three locks systems total if you complete the entire canal. You then take an hour and a half bus ride from the outskirts of Panama City back to the ship.) We remained in Gatum Lake until 11 am and then did a return passage through the same Gatun Lock. We arrived in Colon about 3:30. We got off the ship here and there is a small shopping area called Colon 2000 as soon as you exit the ship. There is not much here...a restaurant, a casino where Spanish only is spoken, a Raddison Hotel, and few electronic stores, a dollar-like store, and a Subway. We were warned not to venture outside of this shopping area. We picked up all the passengers who were on excursions and left Colon at about 5 PM. About half the passengers took excursions...the other half remained on the ship. You will be amazed how many ships are anchored waiting for their time slot. There are 60 shops waiting for 40 slots a day. The cruise lines pay a hefty surcharge for definite times of passage. The Panama Canal was the reason we picked this particular cruise...it did not disappoint. This was our second Princess cruise...for the second time we chose Princess on their itinerary and ports. But for a cruise itself, we would choose Celebrity all day long. Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
Took my bride of 30 years on this New Year's Eve cruise on the Island Princess to celebrate her "special" landmark birthday on New Year's Eve. Considered other choices for a trip but this cruise offered everything we ... Read More
Took my bride of 30 years on this New Year's Eve cruise on the Island Princess to celebrate her "special" landmark birthday on New Year's Eve. Considered other choices for a trip but this cruise offered everything we wanted in one, neat, package. We wanted a mini suite with a balcony and we got one on the Dolphin deck, D707, in the aft section of the ship not far from the stern and rear bank of lifts. We departed Ft. Lauderdale in a timely fashion after a relatively simple check in at the port. Parked at Park n Go near the port who offered a very reasonable rate. Would recommend them. When we got on board we went directly to our cabin and to our surprise a few of our bags were already there and the rest followed promptly. Our mini suite was lovely. Plenty of room, a full couch that could sleep one or two people, a chair and coffee table, two televisions, refrigerator, make up table and chair. The bathroom was quite roomy and featured a full tub and shower combo, full sized vanity for our stuff and plenty of towels. The closet outside the bathroom was stocked with plenty of wooden hangers even though we brought our own. Probably unneccessary to have brought so many. We went to the Horizon buffet on deck 14 for a bite. The lifts near our stateroom were nearly always empty and always came within seconds. That was certainly unexpected but welcome. From the time we got on to the time we returned everyone, and I mean everyone, on the crew was so gracious and kind and welcoming. The food, overall, including the Horizon buffet was very good. One night we paid $25 pp to eat at their Italian restaurant, Sabbatini's, which was top of the line. I would definitely recommend that if you take this cruise eat there at least once. The shows were very good as well and the on board troupe put on four different stage shows all of which were very enjoyable. There were a few singing acts, a magician, a hypnotist, two comics and a crew night where some crew members strutted their talents. A cooking demo in the Universe lounge was very enjoyable and the tour of the galley immediately following was eye opening. I would rate the overall entertainment that was offered to be a B+ bordering on A. The shows were not too long, 45 minutes or so, but that was enough as our 7:45 PM seating at dinner allowed us time to get to the Provence dining room in plenty of time after showtime. We opted for traditional dining for dinner in the Provence dining room on Deck 6 but if you chose anytime dining you would be eating in an equally nice dining room on Deck 5 where you would eat your breakfasts and lunches if you desired or do the Horizon buffet if you chose. There were two formal nights on the 10 night cruise and many folks, most in fact, dressed very nicely. Of course there were a few who didn't but that was certainly in the minority. Our wait staff was most proficient as were the waiters that served you if you chose to eat in the Bordeux dining room for lunch or breakfast. The menus were identical and the food choices covered the full range anyone could ask for. We had lobster dishes a couple of nights, steak and prime rib on a couple of nights, and lots of fish, pasta and vegan dishes were offered. If you didn't like the food you were in the minority as well. The pool deck on deck 14 included two pool areas, one covered, one not. Both featured jacuzzis and were rarely crowded. There were ample deck chairs and lounges for all which was certainly welcome. The casino was so so. Some older machines mixed in with some newer slots but none of the really new slots land casinos offered. Overall we found the slots real tight. There were numerous table games, blackjack, three card poker, Let it Ride, craps and roulette. The cruise was a bit bumpy due to rough seas. As the Island Princess was a smaller, older, ship in the Princess line you felt the shudders from time to time as we crashed through the swells but nobody I saw got sick. Our stateroom in the aft section rocked and rolled a bit at night but we were in bed so who cared. The balcony got well used and the view was top notch. There were several laundromats throughout the ship that we used a few times even though we overpacked, so we thought. They were clean and well maintained. $2.00 for a wash and $2.00 for the dryer and they were good sized. They had bill changers, irons and ironing boards and a vending machine for detergent, bleach and softener if you wanted that. I would consider underpacking nezt time and doing a wash or two on board. The cruise offered a ton of things to do so if you didn't find something that interested you it would be your fault. There were lounges with music all the time and they were real good too....not your run of the mill calypso band that some cruises offer. The 3:30 PM tea in the Bordeaux dining room was excellent. Tea, scones, pastry and cookies galore. We did that twice but really should have done it more but took several land tours which kept us off the ship during the tea time. The island tours were numerous and they offered quite a variety. The price was generally within range as tours go and seemed to be well coordinated. The tip situation always sticks in my craw but it is a fact of life on board. Our mini suite called for a $12 pp gratuity or $240 for the both of us for the 10 night cruise. Our room steward, Benedik, was a doll and we gave him a generous tip on top of this as we did for our waiter, Michael, and junior waiter Victor. It was my wife's 75th birthday and they decorated our stateroom door with a lovely birthday sign and balloons which stayed up all cruise long. They presented her with a lovely Princess decorated cake and candle and sang happy birthday on New Year's Eve which she really appreciated. Our kids chipped in some birthday gifts like some on board credit, a champagne breakfast in our suite (worth every penny), chocolate dipped strawberries, two bottles of wine we used in the dining room, delicious canape tray. Oh my. We had room service a few times and they delivered right when they said they would. We usually gave the server a few bucks but that was not done by all who used the service. Overall we were very happy with the itinerary and ports of call which included Aruba (too short a stay there), Cartagena, Limon Costa Rica, Panama Canal and Grand Cayman. A lovely cruise, a super ship not overly large so you can get around easily without the mob scene on larger ships. Only about 2000 were on the Island Princess and it seemed like there were many less than that based on the uncrowded venues. I would recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to relax and have a great time. Not cheap, especially over New Year's Eve, so if you want to do the trip at some other time you will save mucho bucks and get the same thing. Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
My wife, son (age 16) and I decided to take this cruise over the holidays, as none of us had ever seen the Panama Canal. Despite having been on 5 previous cruises as a family, this was the first time we'd cruised anywhere in the ... Read More
My wife, son (age 16) and I decided to take this cruise over the holidays, as none of us had ever seen the Panama Canal. Despite having been on 5 previous cruises as a family, this was the first time we'd cruised anywhere in the Americas. Also, the Island Princess, a so-called Panamax ship, was the smallest ship we'd ever been on, as we'd previously sailed on Royal Caribbean Radiance- and Freedom-class ships, the Golden Princess, and the Celebrity Constellation. So for us, it was a new region, a new time of year, and new class of ship. The ship. The Island Princess was in good shape, as it had apparently been in drydock for a refresh in the fall of 2010. The public spaces looked fine and were kept clean throughout the trip, and the exterior of the ship, aside from rust stains around the anchor ports, looked very good. We had a mini-suite (D712) near the back of the ship, and that turned out to be a good choice for both a stable ride and its fully-covered balcony. Other than the sofa bed (more on that later), the cabin was in excellent condition. Embarkation. We normally try to get on the ship as early as possible so we can wander around before the crowds arrive. This time, however, we couldn't do that, because the ship had picked up some refugees floating in the Caribbean on the way into Fort Lauderdale and docked several hours late. Despite this, we still got aboard about 1:00 p.m. Princess deserves considerable credit for its humanitarian operations, and was impressive in making up for the subsequent delay. Our bags were in our room by 2:30 p.m. -- the fastest they'd been delivered on any cruise we've taken. Cruise Days 1-2. The cruise started with two sea days, the second of which was fairly rough (15-foot seas). A fair number of passengers and crew got ill, and service times suffered a bit in the main dining room. We weren't affected much, because we had a smoother ride in the back of the ship. I heard a persistent rumor that the ship was having trouble with its stabilizers, but there was no official announcement. The rough seas resulted in the pools being closed, and I watched one spa empty most of its contents onto the deck after a swell. We'd opted for the anytime dining, and always requested to share a table. This worked very well, because we ate with different groups each night and met some very interesting people. I recommend that you still make reservations, though, as that guarantees you'll be seated quickly, and we always got served more quickly on the nights we had reservations. I don't know if the dining rooms operate this way intentionally, but that's how it worked out for us. My wife and I ate in Sabatini's on the first formal night, and I would say the dinner was worth the additional charge (plus, my son was freed to roam with his new buddies and spared one night of coat and tie). On this cruise, Princess also offered a pub lunch with live music in the other specialty dining room on sea days, and we found that to be very good. We probably only hit half the shows on this cruise, and I would characterize the talent level as OK. Our other dining mates were highly critical of the dance shows, but we didn't see any of those. Of the comedy acts I saw, I'd say they were passable, with the exception of one juggling act that seemed just weird. Aruba. This was a very short stop (4 ½ hours), so we didn't sign up for a tour. My wife and I settled for walking around the area around the port, which was unremarkable. In retrospect, we probably should have gotten a cab and gone to one of the nearby beaches, which the rest of the passengers found to be very impressive. Cartagena. Based in Cruise Critic reviews, we had hooked up with another couple and booked a tour via Lee Miles. Lee is an American who also runs a jewelry store in the city, and he arranges tours using a variety of guides. Our guide, Roberto, was very good, and we had the advantage of traveling in a much smaller group than the normal oversubscribed ship tours. Cartagena is a very interesting city with a lot to see, but the street sellers are pretty aggressive. Going in a small group with a local guide mitigates this problem quite a bit, and I'd recommend this approach. A significant number of passengers seemed frightened of Colombia and stayed on the ship, but I'm convinced Cartagena is fine for a day tourist. If you don't want to spend the $50-70 per person for a custom tour, you can just get a cab to the old part of the city and wander through there. Several of our dining companions did just that, and they were very positive about it. Panama Canal. I try to avoid ship tours for the most part, but ship tours were the only option if you wanted to get off and do anything. On this itinerary, the ship transited the Gatun Locks, parked in Gatun Lake, discharged passengers on tours via tenders, and then went right back out and docked at Colon. The ship did not "cruise" Gatun Lake as advertised, which resulted in minor grumbling from some of the passengers. Here's a tip for watching the lock transit: go to the back of the ship. It's uncrowded, you don't have to look through the plexiglass wind deflectors up front, and you get much closer to the lock doors opening and closing. On the Island Princess, you can go to any one of four decks on the back and get a great view of lock operations, and not battle the crowds on the front of the ship. We'd decided to book the expensive ship tour that put us on separate ferry that transited the entire canal. Once we got on the bus, we discovered that the bus's sound system had a problem and delivered mostly high-volume static (the fact that several speakers had been forcibly ripped out of the bus ceiling probably didn't help). This did not stop the guide, who never shut up during the entire 75-minute ride to the ferry dock. We could not understand a single thing this man said, and the entire ride was like running an industrial saw in a lumberyard. We ended up on a ferry with several hundred other people, which sounds bad but was actually comfortable. The ferry served a nice lunch during the transit, and we got to see the Miraflores Locks operate in a way that we couldn't see from the cruise ship. The ferry featured another commentator who never shut up, but at least he had speakers that worked. Nonetheless, there was no reason that he had to try to berate the passengers into singing "Feliz Navidad" with him as we docked in Panama City. Then, of course, we got back on the same bus with the same screwed-up sound system with the same guide who never shut up the entire bus ride back to Colon. I request that Princess tell this tour company to tone it down -- a lot -- particularly since the passengers have no other choices. Puerto Limon. Since this was Christmas Day, I was wondering what would be available. I ended up booking a tour (of sorts) with Okeydokey Tours to go to the Veragua Rainforest. I'm not sure I'd call this a tour, because the booking consisted of us getting into a small van with a friendly driver who dropped us off at the Veragua visitor center and drove us back when we were done. He was a good guy and I liked him, but he certainly wasn't any sort of tour guide. Veragua was OK, and the guide we had there was enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable (Okeydokey did not arrange this tour; Veragua is like a theme park where you buy your ticket at the door). But, it was over an hour's drive from the port on pretty nasty roads, and I suspect that going to the canals or whitewater rafting would have been a better choice. Perversely, we didn't see a single interesting bird in the entire rainforest, but got to watch two large green parrots fighting on a corner of a building next to the dock. It being Christmas Day, it wasn't worth walking in the town around the port, as it was very quiet. However, there was a big area for people selling various things right next to the dock, and the merchandise there was surprisingly interesting. My wife ended up getting a foot massage and pedicure for $15 from a lady in one of the stalls, and I suspect that was one of the best deals we got on the trip. Ocho Rios. Here, we used separate ship's tours, both of which went pretty well. My son and I went zip-lining, which was highly enjoyable, and my wife took an aerial tram over the rainforest. As opposed the the Panama Canal tours, the guides were unobtrusive and the number of passengers manageable. As we got back to the ship, we noticed a maintenance team welding up something under the ship, presumably the errant stabilizer. This gang looked like the sort of people you'd send to blow up an errant asteroid and save the earth -- buff skin divers, lots of high-speed equipment -- so it seemed that the rumor that the ship was having some mechanical problems was correct. To be fair to Princess, whatever the problem was probably didn't have a significant effect on the cruise, so I won't criticize them for not putting out an announcement. One problem the ship's complement did cure was taking care of a bad allergic reaction my son suffered when we got back on a Ocho Rios. He had run up against something ashore that caused a very severe rash, and so we got to use the ship's medical facilities. We are indebted to Dr. Deon Venter, the ship's doctor, and his assistant, Matt, for getting things under control and following up with my son multiple times prior to us disembarking. The Island Princess has a very good medical staff and facility, and the treatment my son got there was as good (and quicker) than what we would have gotten at home in the States. Disembarkation. This was quick and painless, as was the Princess-arranged bus transfer to the airport. Miscellaneous comments and summary. Due to my son's rash, I spent the last night of the trip on the sofa bed, which I discovered to be nastily uncomfortable. I guess 16-year-olds can sleep on anything, but 53-year-olds don't sleep well on crooked steel frames that telegraph through a thin mattress. Since returning, I have seen other complaints about this, and I can confirm that at least one sofa bed on the Island Princess is unacceptable as a bed. Nickel-and-diming continues on cruises (and everything else) and this trip was no exception. We were charged for orange juice served after 11:30 a.m. (and who thought up this policy?) and were constantly solicited for bottled water prior to disembarking at the ports. I defeated the latter by bringing my own water bottles, and we also avoided paying ship prices for laundry detergent by bringing aboard our own. However, exercise classes were reasonable at $10 a session, and my wife found the spa prices to be tolerable. Princess has installed something called "The Sanctuary" on the back of many of its ships, which is, as far as I can tell, a limited-entry sunbathing area that you have to pay extra to use. Maybe this is worth it to somebody, but my impression of The Sanctuary is that it is like lounging around in the fake-plant section of an arts-and-crafts store. Astroturf, plastic shrubbery -- what's all this about? Maybe some other reviewer can explain the attraction. The lectures Princess offered on the cruise were informative. One was given by the cruise director and covered the history of the cruise industry and current trends, and I thought it was very good. Another lecturer (a former State Department and World Bank employee) gave a series of lectures on the ports, and they were generally well-done. Otherwise, we liked the ship and the cruise. Princess has opted away from giant multistory public spaces, and various areas on the ship, while impressively decorated, retain a human scale and are comfortable. Despite the ship being at full capacity (2200 passengers), it never felt crowded. Our cabin steward, Alvin, was effective and unobtrusive, and likely would have done something about the sofa bed had I discovered it and mentioned to him. Every crew member that we encountered seemed very expert at their job. My last bit of advice is that if you take a Christmas cruise, try to bring something to give the people serving you on a holiday. I live near Washington, D.C., so I brought a set of White House Christmas ornaments to hand out to the cabin steward, Christmas day tour guides, etc. I don't pretend to think that this would make up for their being away from their families (and working), but I believe they appreciated the gesture. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
This was our second cruise on the Island Princess. We first sailed on her on a cruise/tour to Alaska in 2009. That trip was spectacular and will probably remain as our #1 of eight cruises. But this moved to #2 over a Thanksgiving cruise to ... Read More
This was our second cruise on the Island Princess. We first sailed on her on a cruise/tour to Alaska in 2009. That trip was spectacular and will probably remain as our #1 of eight cruises. But this moved to #2 over a Thanksgiving cruise to the Eastern Caribbean last November on Emerald Princess. Positives: The food on Island Princess this time was noticably better than on the Alaska trip. The itinerary was very good (Aruba, Cartegena, Colon, Limon and Ocho Rio). Cabin Steward (Eduardo) was outstanding and responsive. Dining room wait staff were incredible though they always been great on all three Princess cruises. In general, all of the ship's company seemed friendlier and more welcoming than on previous trips. The ship is well maintained with no noticable deterioration in the two years since we last sailed on her. Also, there seemed to be a little less sales pressure than on previous Princess trips. Negatives: Anytime dining seemed totally disorganized with long waits for a table if you didn't make reservations. The chaos was even worse on formal nights especially immediately following the end of a show in the Princess Theater. There apparently was a leak from the aft holding tank into the starboard-most aft elevator which had a foul odor most of the trip. Some days it was so bad that it filled the entire elevator lobby. Package deals for soft drinks and wines were not clearly explained. I took a soft drink package which was promoted at $45.00 though the steward told me it was $47 and would allow unlimited soft drinks. What wasn't explained was there was a 15% add-on for tips and that you were limited to a max of $4.50 per day in one kind of fountain soft drink...not canned soft drinks. There was no mention of a second package which allowed unlimited soft drinks of any kind up to a max of $7.50 a day for $75.00 plus 15%. I only drink cokes so was surprised when my bill showed an item of $80.00+ which sent me scurrying to Passenger Services for an explanation. The very courteous clerk had to go through every bill from the Lido Bar for that day and still couldn't find the original receipt. He also advised that he could take no action but that his supervisor would review the situation and make a decision. I was credited with the difference between the two packages on my final bill so, in the end, it was handled well. Strangely, once they put a little sticker on my ship's card, I could get a coke at any bar and there was no accounting of how many refills I got during the day...so I don't know how they would even know when I exceeded my limit. Friends had similar problems with a wine package. One final note: On the second and third nights out winds reached full gale of 40+ mph with seas of 7-12 feet, occasionally reaching 20 feet. Island Princess handled the seas as well as the normal 5-7 foot seas we experienced most of time. Considering the negative reviews we had heard about some of the ports, especially Ocho Rio, we were very pleasantly surprised at the lack of pushy sales attempts by locals in nearly all of the ports. Ocho Rio had some extremely bad reviews but we encountered no problems with locals harrassing us trying to sell trinkets. We did encounter some problems in Cartagena but our tour guide helped us out there. Port Review for Limon, Costa Rico: Our fourth port was Limon, Costa Rico where we decided to do another tour on our own. This time we had the recommendation of a friend who had been to Limon the previous year. We didn't make reservations but as soon as we left the ship we encountered a barrage of locals hawking tours. We simply told them we were looking for OkeyDokey Tours operated by Charlie Soto and quickly got directions to their stand which was close by. There were just two of us and after haggling a bit we got what we thought was a fair price which we agreed on. We were led to a very clean air six-passenger air conditioned van by our guide, Carlos Valladares (0348@hotmail.com) and our driver, Jose. The per person price was about $30 less than we would have paid on the ship and the value was outstanding. It included a trip to a scenic garden where we could hear Howling monkeys roaring in the nearby rain forest; a roadside stop where we handled and photographed a sloth; several roadside stops to look at monkeys; a visit to a banana plantation; a river boat tour to view wildlife and a trip to a beach which we declined because of the weather. Carlos spoke excellent english and talked non-stop about the culture and the sights we were seeing. We were fascinated with the operation of the banana plantation where the banana stalks were ziplined from the field to the plant. We got to watch the entire process from tree to shipping by truck to a waiting ship in the nearby harbor. Carlos and Jose dropped us off at a boat operated by Alden whose english was extremely precise and much better than mine. The first thing I noticed about Alden was his extremely sharp eyes. He could see camoflaged birds, secretive sloths hidden in the trees and small but rare lizards in the woods and brush along the river. Once he spotted something, he would then maneuver the boat to make sure I got a good shot with my camera. We spent an hour on the river and I took more than 100 pictures of the birds and wildlife. The only negative was that it rained thoughout most of the trip. Though there was a top on the boat the wind was blown inside. Alden supplied us with heavy plastic ponchos so we stayed pretty dry. We bypassed the beach to return to the ship to get a hot shower and warm up. The temperature never rose above 76 while we were there and with the dampness and walking we were pretty tired, but it was a good tired after an excellent tour. OkeyDokey tours has a website at www.okeydokeytours.com. The one thing that surprised me about Limon was its low standard of living. I had understood that Costa Rico had one of the highest educational levels and standards of living in Central America but it was obvious that poverty is similar to other Caribbean countries. Carlos also made it clear how important tourism and the cruise industry is to Costa Rico to improve the country's standard of living. This was an outstanding stop and possibly worth considering for a future cruise. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
We had been recommended to cruise through the Panama Canal also to visit Vancouver so this seemed to be the ideal cruise for us. 19 nights appeared a long time but the ports of call and the destination seemed appealing. We were surprised ... Read More
We had been recommended to cruise through the Panama Canal also to visit Vancouver so this seemed to be the ideal cruise for us. 19 nights appeared a long time but the ports of call and the destination seemed appealing. We were surprised on the first day when we realised this was not one cruise but two cruises in one. Although when we checked on board with Princess they said if you booked it as one cruise it was considered one cruise, even though we had to settle our on board account after 4 days, receive new cards and start again in Los Angeles. However, one assumes because of poor sales for the full cruise, Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale, Princess offered a 4 day mini-cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles at very attractive prices. The 4 day cruise clearly was very appealing to people living in the Los Angeles area who appeared to look at it as a cheap long weekend of gorging themselves on as much food as possible, the Horizon restaurant was kept very busy.In Los Angeles the now very over weight mini-cruisers were replaced by customers who joined for the remainder of the cruise to Fort Lauderdale. After Los Angeles the tenor of the cruise changed to people who clearly just enjoyed cruising, thankfully. This was a repositioning cruise and we got the impression Princess struggled to find adequate ports of call. The first port was Victoria on Vancouver Island which the ship could have reached within the hour of leaving Vancouver but because of the itinerary the ship circled the Island until the following morning. Having said that it is a beautiful place, if you ever get the chance to go to the Butchart Gardens make sure you go. The second port of call was Los Angeles. What a disappointment, we hear about what a wonderful place this is and yet it was probably the worst port of call in the whole cruise and when you consider the next stop was in Guatemala you will appreciate our views on Los Angeles. We then sailed past the coastline of Mexico, we were told Princess are not calling there at the moment because of safety issues. This was clear in Guatemala because for our trip Princess had arranged a well armed police guard to keep us secure around Lake Atilan. We were told because of the Mexican threat. Guatemala is clearly a very poor country and the poverty was distressing. Onward to Costa Rica and Puntarenas, much more civilised and a good port of call. We opted for a private excursion with Okey Dokey Tours including zip lining, fantastic. Panama City was next and there were plenty of varying excursions available. The next day was the day we navigated the Panama Canal which created a great deal of interest for all onboard and it was well handled by the Princess crew.Plenty of history but the cynics on board suggested it was only two locks and a big lake! Cartagena in Columbia came next and for us the best port of call, plenty of history and things to see. We again opted for a private tour with Dora Tours. She was excellent and by far the best tour guide we have ever had.Then came Aruba which apart from shopping for jewellery appeared to offer nothing much more. Two more days at sea and we arrived in Fort Lauderdale. 19 nights on board, 7 ports of call and 10 sea days. The last time we cruised with Princess was on the Emerald Princess which is a bigger ship with more amenities. On the Island Princess we chose "anytime dining" so we had only one choice of restaurant (apart from the two where you have to pay extra), on the Emerald you have a choice of four plus the specialities. So the menus was somewhat repetitive. I cannot mention the Bordeaux restaurant without highlighting the ultra efficient maitre'd Mihaela and the fantastic waitress Ana Maria. Both Romanian ladies who were a credit to Princess, highly efficient and great fun. We used the Sabatinis restaurant on two occasions. In hindsight once was enough as it is always the same menu, however we did have an excellent time. The staff in general were all very good, to wake up to the Deputy Cruise Director Kimberley on the Wake Up show every morning was a treat. Princess you should make her a Cruise Director asap. The Sanctuary was new to us, this facility has not featured before. A worthy addition and we were pleased to learn this facility will be enlarged on the new ship. Although at $40 a day for the two of us is somewhat excessive. Overall we enjoyed the cruise, it was in hindsight too long for us, too many sea days and not enough ports of call worthy of attention. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
Review of Island Princess Partial Transit of the Panama Canal, Dec 20-30th 2010 Here is my personal review of our recent cruise. We are not frequent cruisers; this is our 4th cruise, and our second with Princess. Some in the group were ... Read More
Review of Island Princess Partial Transit of the Panama Canal, Dec 20-30th 2010 Here is my personal review of our recent cruise. We are not frequent cruisers; this is our 4th cruise, and our second with Princess. Some in the group were new to cruising Even though we live in Florida (Tampa), we decided to drive to Ft Lauderdale on Dec 19th and spend the night there. We stayed at the Marriott Springhill Suites, and were able to leave our car there during the cruise for no extra cost. It was a nice place to stay and the shuttle service both to and from the ship was efficient and timely. There is no charge to get to the ship, but a 10 dollar per person charge to get back to the hotel. We had family that flew in from Michigan the day before the cruise left, and also family that drove from Michigan, so this was a good place to meet up. We took the 12:45 shuttle to the port on Dec 20th. As another poster pointed out there was some trouble with the magnetic scanning of ID cards that held us up for about an hour or so, and then people that had come in after us all of a sudden were sent to the check in lines before us. This was upsetting to me, I do not at all mind waiting my turn, but I do not appreciate people getting ahead of me when I have been waiting patiently. There was definitely not enough Princess staff available to handle the crowds and keep people in proper order. However, this was a minor irritation. We finally made it aboard around 2:30 or so and found our lovely mini suite with balcony, Deck 10, Caribe. I loved the room, and with my two nieces along in our room it was great to have the extra space. We have never had a balcony or mini suite before. However, I would never book in the back of the ship again, it was very rocky and noisy at night with all the vibration and the first night there was a lot of knocking outside that was very loud, but that seemed to get corrected after that night. Room and smoking: Loved the balcony for my husband who smokes cigars. He only smokes outside, and was courteous and did not usually smoke if other people were out on the balconies near ours. He also kept the balcony door closed when smoking. I walked all of the halls, and on level 5, port side there was some awful smoking going on at all times that penetrated the entire hallway. I really think Princess should ban smoking in all cabins, but that is just my opinion. I am okay with it on the balconies and in the cigar lounge, etc. I am not a smoker and never have been. Bedding: We both thought the queen sized bed was very comfortable, and also the pillows were great. We slept well for the most part even with the vibrations and rolling seas! We like a firmer mattress, and found this perfect. Steward: We were lucky to have a fine gentleman named Nestor who took great care of us and our room. The girls loved him. He was always around. We tipped him extra on Christmas and when we left. Dining: We opted for early seating, which we were told was 6 pm, but our card said 5:45. We arrived anytime between 5:30 and 6 depending on what we were doing that day. My husband is a very slow eater and many times we did not finish up until 7:30. Our servers were Noel and his assistant Francis. Noel was more reserved, and Francis more light hearted and he was very taken with our grandson who is 13. We also tipped them extra on Christmas Day as well as the last night. My husband ordered cappuccino the first night, I ordered coffee and our grandson had hot cocoa and after that night Francis remembered and we did not have to ask for it again. We all thought the food was pretty good, some choices better than others. I loved the cold fruit soups. I agree with another poster that said the halibut on Christmas Eve was overcooked, it was. Also the gingerbread soufflE was a big disappointment and I was really looking forward to it since so many previous posters had raved about it. In fact, I thought they must have made a mistake; it was very light in color and had only a hint of spice to it. The cream sauce over it was delicious however. The vegetables were always very good, grilled zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, bok choy, etc. My favorite was probably the red snapper with a fabulous couscous, also the prawns and lobster was surprisingly good. One of my nieces was seasick and ordered green apples two nights in a row! The sorbets were delicious. We ordered room service several mornings for breakfast, I always wrote in bacon and hard boiled eggs, and always got what I ordered and also the various times I ordered it (6:15 am one day). One morning I ordered the corn beef hash for my husband and it came. We did eat in the dining room for breakfast one morning, and the rest of the time in the Horizon Court. Their oatmeal is fabulous; does anyone know how they make it? I would love to get that recipe. We tried the pizza twice for lunch, it was pretty good, and tried the grill for lunch twice as well, the fries and hamburger were good. We did not eat any lunches in the dining room. We loved the soft serve ice cream; it was a very good rich flavor. We did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants; we did not feel the need to. We liked the food and thought there were plenty of choices. None of us are gourmet foodies, but we all like to try new foods and are not chain restaurant type people usually. Sanctuary: We went up there the first day to see it, but none of us used it at all. Spas: My husband went down for a shave and massage one day and really liked it, and then made the staff very happy by buying several of their products for a ridiculous amount of money! Pools: We had three kids in our group, ages 15, 13 and 12. They loved the pools and hot tubs and spent hours in them. They also went into the Lotus pool in the evening when it was usually deserted, even though it said adults only, there were no adults around and they were well behaved so we let them use the pool. I even used the Lotus pool the last evening, it was lovely and relaxing in there. MUTS: I think 2 adults in our group liked this in the evening, and they saw three movies out there. They really liked it. I thought it was too cold, but probably would have tried it if it had been warmer. I sometimes thought it was too noisy out by the outdoor pool during the day, and could have lived without Stevie Wonder blasting me. Kids Programs: All three kids were enrolled but probably partook in the activities only a few hours each. For my two nieces they could not tolerate the motion back there, and I agree with them, it was very rocky back there. My eldest niece said it was very cliquey and that a lot of the kids seemed to know each other and were not inclusive. Entertainment: Because of the kids I personally did not get to as much of the entertainment as I would have liked. I went to Piano Man and it was okay. I went to the first night of Willie Tyler and Lester and thought it was just okay. I took my two nieces to see Tribute and we all really liked it. Just one of my nieces went with me to see "Do You Want to Dance?" and we both thought that was the best. Sea and Seasickness: This was only our 4th cruise and by far the roughest. One day there were gale force winds and according to the ships log is was "mild seas" and that was a big fat lie. I was not bothered by sea sickness at all, but a few times had a bit of a queasy stomach which was quickly remedied with chewing on some ginger capsules. I have experienced horrible seasickness in the past, but seem to be a better sailor as I age! My sister and her husband and both my nieces were bothered by seasickness, three of them to the point of vomiting and I am sure cursing that they ever decided to go on their first cruise! They all had sea bands, were taking the bonine, green apples, ginger, and an aromatherapy inhaler. Nothing seemed to help, only time. My sister and her husband were on the 5th floor, in the middle of the ship and their room was so much smoother than ours. In fact when the kids were sick they went to that room and slept on the floor and they could not tolerate the motion in our room. I even tried to switch rooms due to the motion but was told the ship was full and we were not able to switch rooms. My one niece actually vomited one night in the dining room, they had to cordon off the table and decontaminate the area, but no one was restricted to their rooms by staff. Ports of call: Aruba, 4 of our group went snorkeling and liked it. The other 5 of us went to the DePalm Island/beach. Unfortunately we were not able to dock where we were suppose to in Aruba, so this excursion entailed about a 20 minute bus ride to get to where we needed to take the boat to the island, my niece vomited on the bus (luckily into a towel), and my sister was sick once she got off the bus. Luckily for them this was the end of their sea sickness and neither of them were bothered again with it on the trip. The swimming was wonderful here.We loved this excursion, but it was way too short, and then even shorter because of the unexpected bus ride back and forth. Cartagena: Very hot. We took the walking tour and loved seeing the old town, but did not like how the tour was run. We had 12 minutes in the museum which was ridiculous, and only 5 minutes in this shop that sold emeralds and that was a bigger joke. Even if I had wanted to buy an emerald there would not have been time. Our guide started out good but ran out of steam; he did not do a good job of keeping the group together. I have heard a lot of good words about private tours in this city and I think that would be a better deal. The city skyline in this city is beautiful and impressive. There were lots of persistent vendors. Panama: Since it was Christmas Day none of us took a tour. I got up at the crack of dawn and went forward through the "secret" door on deck 10. It was great seeing the canal that way and well worth getting up so early for. We did get off in Colon for some shopping and that was fun and convenient. Look for the handmade baskets and nativity sets, they are beautiful. I did not personally see them, but my sister and her husband did, they really enjoyed the shopping there and went back out to purchase me a few nativity sets, quite a bargain for 15 dollars each. Costa Rica: My husband, my two nieces and I took the 10 hour tour that started out with a bus ride to the canals where we boarded the small river boat for 90 minutes or so on the river. I loved that, our driver and guides were good. We saw 2 toed slots, 3 toed sloths, frogs, birds including a green heron that I had never seen before and the amazing Jesus Christ lizard. We did not see any howler monkeys, but it was rainy all day. We then got back on the bus and went to where the aerial tram was. First we had lunch at the rainforest cafe, did a bit of shopping; bought some Costa Rican coffee, and some delicious candies called chocolates Britt that was dark chocolate covered orange jelly, and also pineapple. Both made in Costa Rica which I liked. Also bought a t- shirt which I was happy to see was made in Costa Rica. We then went on the aerial tram for about 70-80 minutes. It was lush and green and beautiful, but very wet and we saw no wildlife. Each tram carries 6 people and a guide. Then it was about a 2 hour ride back to the ship. We had no time for anything else. It was a full day and expensive, but I am glad we did it. Some in our group did the off road excursion and really enjoyed that, and others did the closer aerial tram and nature center and did not think it was worth the money. The only complaint I had on this excursion was it seemed disorganized at first. It was raining quite hard, my husband was in a wheelchair and were were directed to one bus, then my husband got out of the w/c to get on the bus and we were directed to another bus which we walked to then to another bus then finally to a 4th bus. All of this in the rain with my husband walking with his cane and his w/c getting drenched. Again because of this many people boarded the bus before us, even though we were there first. This really bugs me. I will again say I do not mind waiting my turn, but get very annoyed when I have waited my turn and others get ahead. This was very disorganized. Jamaica: The weather was cloudy and not that warm. Six of us did the plantation and Dunns River falls. The kids loved the falls. It would have been better if it had been warmer, but cannot control the weather. I did not like the vendors in Jamaica. Our driver then took us to a store near the "Taj Mahal" where I bought 5 Cuban cigars at 10 dollars each for my husband, he said they were not very good! One problem in Jamaica; once again we were not able to dock where we were supposed to, and I don't think it was possible to walk easily to shopping or the Margaretville, but I could be wrong. Miscellaneous: Christmas day was fun on the ship. They had a lovely kids program and each kid received a Princess teddy bear from Santa. All the Christmas decorations on the ship were lovely. The crew party that started at 11pm on the second to last night was a lot of fun; the kids really enjoyed dancing with the crew and the conga lines. I see previous posters complained about the toilets, we were not affected, thank goodness! I thought everything was pretty clean and well maintained, except at the outdoor pool area. It was quite windy much of the time out there, and lots of napkins, etc blew around and trash was very noticeable in some areas here. I noticed this on more than one occasion and more than one day, and think Princess should beef up their staff in this area and take notice of this. We had fun making our gingerbread house, making cards, playing bingo, trivia and family feud. We read and played games in the game room. My husband enjoyed some time in the cigar lounge. We spent very little time or money in the casino, and we usually like to spend some time there. My husband bought a coffee card, and did not quite use it all up. We used the self serve laundry and it was very convenient. It costs 1 dollar per wash and the same to dry. I would recommend bringing some quarters, and your own detergent although there was a change machine available as well as soap to purchase. The girls were very disappointed that they could not get their passports stamped anywhere, they had hoped to get a stamp from each country they visited. Staff: We found all of the staff courteous and friendly. Overall: It was a great trip and I would recommend Princess cruise lines and I would cruise with them again. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
We are experienced cruisers from AZ. We've been on RCCL, NCL, HA and Azamara but had never been on Princess. We decided to try it for this "Holiday Week" trip through the Panama Canal, which we had long wanted to travel and ... Read More
We are experienced cruisers from AZ. We've been on RCCL, NCL, HA and Azamara but had never been on Princess. We decided to try it for this "Holiday Week" trip through the Panama Canal, which we had long wanted to travel and for a chance to see some Central American ports. We arrived in Acapulco the evening before the cruise with time only for dinner due to plane delays. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza. We knew is wasn't going to be perfect but even so were not happy. It was fully booked with many many Mexican families of very noisy children and their parents who filled the elevators, restaurant and all public areas. It was nearly impossible to get an elevator down in the morning when we were checking out and then it got stuck between floors for several minutes (not fun at all). I heard from others on the cruise that Las Brisas would have been a better choice but have a feeling it was out of our price range. There don't seem to be hotel shuttles to the port in Acapulco but we got a taxi driven by the self proclaimed "Second Best Taxi Driver in Acapulco (the best is in the hospital recovering from an accident). We arrived at the port by 11:30 and waited with a porter for 12:00 to board. Boarding went smoothly and our cabin was already ready for us. We headed directly up to the Sanctuary having heard that to book for the full week we should do that first thing and traveling alone on a cruise that would have over 500 children on board we felt we needed the "serenity" of Sanctuary. We had over 30 minutes to wait (with a few other CC Members) for an attendant to arrive at about 1:00 and then were told that a) there was no discount to book for ther full week, b) there was a significant upcharge for Canal Day (more about that later), c) there would be no refunds and d) we could not reserve seating for the week. We all tried to argue with her to little avail. The best we could get was that she would make note of our seating preferences and give us preference during the week for shade (if that's what we wanted) and for the four cabanas (if that's what we wanted). So $230 per person later we headed to the Horizon Court for our first lunch. I have no complaints about the cabin The size was adequate, there was no motion/vibration problem and it was kept clean by an attendant who we almost never saw. This itinerary included four ports in the first four days. In Huatulco we took a walk around the town and beach. Not that much to do there and we were still acclimating to the cruise. In Puerto Quetzal we took took the Filadelfia Coffee Plantation tour and it was one of the highlights of the week. The tour of the plantation was well done both educational and fun and the lunch was probably the best I've ever had on a tour (note: on request we were provided with a vegetarian lunch). In San Juan del Sur, we arranged a short tour of the town on a pedicab and saw the local library (the first in Nicaragua, we were told) and participated in a holiday party for the local children. In Costa Rica we did a river rafting tour (also well done) all before our first sea day. Whew... In between al that we found time to eat and be entertained on the ship. Although we had signed up for Traditional Late Dining, we only ate that once and ate all other dinners in the Anytime Dining Room with the exception of one night at Sabatini's and one night in the Horizon (I think, or maybe not). We are pescetarians (we eat fish but otherwise are vegetarian). Also, I am trying to diet (not a good thing when cruising, I know). The food was not as good, in general, as we have had on the other cruise lines. The menus on the Formal Nights were very "informal" with lobster tail only offered in the main dining room on the Captain's Night (not a formal night). The salmon from the "Alternative (every night)" menu was nearly petrified (tough and dry). Other fish was marginally better with the exception of Barramundi (sp?) late in the cruise which was very good and sea bass which was good once and fair the other time. Salads were ok but skimpy. One appetizer, the last night, with seafood in it tasted really off and we returned it. There was pasta every night with fettucini alfredo there every (or nearly every) night. Bread and rolls with butter on the table every night were a downfall for me, I must get the courage to ask for crudites instead in the future. We had breakfast in the Horizon each morning, nothing special. Note that the coffee is AWFUL. We bought a "coffee card" which entitled us to "unlimited premium filtered coffee" and 15 espresso based drinks for $24. The premium coffee was hard to find (and why couldn't it be standard?) and the espresso was sometimes good, sometimes too acid. My DH got to like the cappucinos though. Also note that we were disappointed with the service in Horizon. We were never asked if we wanted coffee or juice. Also the only juices easily available were orange and apple, anything else was a special order. Dinner at Sabatinis was good quality. I can't remember what I ate, though, they just kept bringing out more and more and more. The production shows were better than average. We liked one comedian who did a fun act together with the cruise director. My husband liked the ventriloquist. My favorite (as always) was the piano bar. On this cruise it was Martin Kaye, a Manchester-Brit with a passion for Elton John who also managed to introduce us to Cold Play and some other post-modern music. When not on tour, we spent our time in the Sanctuary. Service there was spotty, sometimes getting the cabana we had expressed a preference for but about half the time, not. Sometimes we were spoiled with ice-water refills cold cloths and towels and other times, we were pretty much ignored. There was fruit-water set out each day but as the cruise wore on they neglected to put cups out for it. The gates to the Sanctuary area were often bolted shut to keep out non-paying guests but that made access hard for those of us who had paid. Canal day was a bit chaotic. We paid $70 per person for that day and were told we would get champagne, food, use of binoculars and free photos. We got a skimpy glass of champagne (refills were charged for), the same food that was offered every day (nothing special), binoculars that were collected before the transit was completed and the photos... well that was the part that pushed me over the edge. I had presumed (incorrectly) that the photos would be of US ! The photos were stock shots of the ship going through the canal. Oooh (not). I complained about this to the Director of Passenger Services (who responded by sending me a couple of extra stock shots). Also, the afternoon after the canal, a group of passengers decided to have a party on the Sanctuary deck with music played through speakers they attached to their iPods and loud talking and smoking by at least one of them. I complained about this to the attendant and she brought me chips and salsa in response to my complaint. But and however, the Sanctuary is a really good concept and when it works, it works and is a good thing. We are back home now and I have good memories of my cruise and I'm relaxed and ready to get back to the real world (as well as ready to plan more vacations). Who could ask for anything more? Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
We are a family of four (my husband and I in our early forties and our two boys ages 13 and 10). This was our 7th cruise (all on Princess). GETTING TO ACAPULCO: We are from the Seattle area, and have learned to not travel the day of ... Read More
We are a family of four (my husband and I in our early forties and our two boys ages 13 and 10). This was our 7th cruise (all on Princess). GETTING TO ACAPULCO: We are from the Seattle area, and have learned to not travel the day of embarking on a cruise, for several reasons. 1. Giving us (and the airlines) a few extra days to get us "there" takes a ton of stress off. (We have learned this the hard way) and 2. Getting to our destination early allows us to unwind and get acclimated to the weather and time change (plus it lets us start our vacation a little bit early). So we flew Continental to Acapulco. We loved Acapulco. We stayed at the Grand Mayan resort for 3 nights, and it was incredible. The Grand Mayan was a 10 minute drive from the airport. It was an awesome resort, a family friendly place with a great lazy river, aqua park for kids, the longest pool we have ever seen, great public facilities, and our two bedroom room was spacious (we all loved the soaking pool on our balcony). There was a terrific beach right out front. We had a good pre-Christmas experience there. The only con to the resort is because it is in the "newer" part of Acapulco, it meant it was a 40 minute drive to the older Acapulco/cruise ship terminal area. We found ourselves taking taxis every day, but well worth it. While in Acapulco we saw the cliff divers, Fort San Diego, the artisans markets, the Flamingo hotel, Hardrock Cafe, etc. All in all we had a great time. EMBARKATION: The day of embarking went fairly smoothly. We got to the terminal early and had no delays, and were on the ship by 1:00pm. THINGS WE LOVED ON/ABOUT THE SHIP: The location of the Horizon Court is awesome (at the front of the ship with great views). We always like the burger bar and pizza. We liked that the gym was open 24 hours. We loved the way they decorated for Christmas. We thought they did a great job celebrating Christmas for the kids (crafts, cookies to decorate and a visit from Santa). Our boys liked the Ultimate Drink Card, and we used the coffee card daily. We thought most of the crew was upbeat (except for a few pushy servers pushing those drinks). We thought the entertainment was average (The piano man was incredible and very entertaining, we saw a few productions shows, a comedian, and a mentalist who was so so.) Room service was ok (sometimes it took a while and occasionally the order would be incomplete). We loved that the day we went through the canal they had an ongoing informational blurb over the intercom system spouting great and interesting facts about the history of the canal and the procedures to transit the canal. We loved that. We loved that there was always great and uncrowded views going thru the canal (check out the secret passages to the front of the ship on deck 10 and the secret passages on the back of the ships on decks 9 and 10). Tea time is always fun. WE absolutely loved the putt putt golf course on the top. THINGS WE DID NOT LIKE: We thought the Island was beginning to show wear and tear (for example: the carpets were stained, the fabric seats in the Horizon court were soiled, some rust on our balcony, the couch in the cigar lounged had been feebly repaired.). We missed Skywalkers, we missed MUTS, we missed the International Cafe. We thought the cigar lounge was a "smoker's closet" - gross, small and smelly. We thought the Cruise Director (Frank) was a bit phony. We thought the food had dropped significantly in quality and selection (for example: no escargot and no crab, instead alot of veal, lamb and meatloaf - yep, meatloaf on a cruise ship...hmmm). And late at night there was minimal variety and quantity in the Horizon Court. We had a difficult time deciphering Princess' rules (as to what rules were being enforced and which ones most people could and did ignore.)...for example: if babies/toddlers were NOT potty trained they were allowed in the splash pool only - that rule was never enforced by pool staff. Which was gross considering that children (of all ages - as well as us parents if we so chose to hang out with our kids were limited to using only one pool (I'll expand on that below). Not allowed to wear shorts in the dining room for dinner? - sure you were, we saw several people in shorts that were never turned away. Children were not allowed in the first three rows of the Princess Theater - every time we saw a show in the theater there would be several children in the first three rows and even when they were climbing over the seats and being a huge distraction, they were never asked to leave or move. In fact we never even saw Teen Security on the entire ship. So if Princess is going to state rules then why not enforce them. OK, here's my biggest complaint about this cruise. We booked a mini suite for 4 people, we got a mini suite meant for three people. It was a huge inconvenience. Picture this. We could go from our balcony to our front door without ever touching the ground. Our one son slept on a (less than twin size) pullout couch, our other son slept on a crummy, dirty, flimsy roll a way bed (that we had to roll out in the morning ourselves), that went cross-ways from the pull out bed to our bed. We complained the first night to two people at the Passenger Services Desk and their reply was "we are sailing at full capacity, and really how much time do you plan on spending in your cabin?" We were told they would get back with us the next day - they didn't. Four days later we complained, we were told someone would get a hold of us - no one did. I think Princess' attitude is: once on board we, the passengers are stuck so why make anything better for us. In this case we asked for our situation to be rectified (and we were shut down). I have since written a letter to Princess and am awaiting their reply. THIS PART APPLIES TO PARENTS TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN: On the Christmas cruise there were 500 children on board. If you ask me I think Princess "corralled" the children. For example: The back pool is in the adult/pay Sanctuary (off limits to kids and non-paying adults), the Lotus spa/indoor pool was adult only, so besides the splash pool it left children (families) to use the outdoor pool, and during pool games the kids had no pool. That meant if you child had gotten a bit too much sun, oh well, they could not use the indoor pool (that by the way was filled at 1/4 capacity). The kids were scrutinized poolside and reprimanded if they dare jump (feet first) into the pool, definitely not allowed. Kids clubs: When our boys were younger I think Princess did a great job with that 4-7 y/o group. But...the 8-12 y/o are put on auto pilot in front of PS2's and WII's. And my 10 year old son did not have a good time making a grass skirt for tropical island night. My 13 y/o was in the 13 to 17 teen club, and I think there is a big difference between 13 and 17. That group primarily focuses in a social setting (chatting, hanging out, dancing). There were few if any organized activities. So our kids hung out with us most of the time (which was fine with us). What we tell our kids on cruises, is: They have the right to enjoy themselves just like everyone else, regardless of age, but that they do not have the right to negatively impact any other persons right to enjoy themselves. MISC: There was quite a wide range of age groups. So to any grumpy adults out there that might be reading this, it's not always a kid that pushes the wrong button on an elevator, sometimes it's an adult that changes their mind mid-destination or accidentally pushes the up button when they wanted to go down, so please don't always blame the kids. And to kids out there. Don't scare people by running up or down the stairs taking 4 at a time. Our reflexes are slower and you look like a freight train coming at us. If you asked an older couple they would probably say that the children were running a muck. But if you ask me (from a parent's stand point) I think kids were not appropriately entertained and that they were being punished for being a kid and that they were corralled. It was almost like the ship was too small for kids. TRICKS: It always surprises me to meet people on a cruise that stare cross eyed at me when I order a bowl of strawberries with a side of whip cream for dessert at dinner. They say "can you do that?". Well if you take nothing away from this review, please remember this. Ask away. You might not get everything, but you won't get much if you don't ask. For example: Being in a mini suite we get a glass of champagne upon arrival - we ask for the bottle (and get it), no matter what cabin your in - ask for robes, ask for egg crate on the bed, ask to have your sitting chair of coffee table removed if you need the room, ask for strawberries for dessert or lox for breakfast. I think we are cruising at a time when even the cruise lines are cutting back trying to save money, but it never hurts to ask. We booked this cruise to experience the Panama Canal and that was amazing, awesome and something I think our entire family will always remember. Oh, did I mention that from our balcony, we were all able to touch the canal wall! Those are our favorite pictures. We realize that with any vacation rarely does it go perfectly, so you do the best you can with what you got at the time and we try to make every vacation a wonderful experience. OK, moving on...DISEMBARKING: My husband walked off the ship early, shared a taxi to the airport, picked up a rental car and came back for the three of us and our luggage an hour later. It worked out perfectly. As for us three disembarking...that was quick and easy as well. From there we drove to Tampa and did Busch Gardens for 2 days, then drove to Orlando and did Universal Parks for 2 days. In Orlando, we stayed at a Universal Property, The Portofino Bay, which is an absolute wonderful and amazing property. The best part is that if you stay at a Universal property, your room card gets you head of the line privileges, which saved us hours of standing in lines waiting to go on rides. On Jan 3rd our flight was cancelled so Delta put us up at a hotel and we arrived home Jan 4th in the evening. They boys were up early and back to school the next day. Oh, it's such a harsh transition from vacation to reality! Happy travels to all. HUATULCO, Mexico: Huatulco is a small coastal Mexican town. We got off the ship, took a $4 taxi ride into town and just wandered around taking pictures and picking up some souvenirs (vanilla, ceramics, pottery, t shirts and coffee). It was a relaxing day for us. There is a nice beach right by the cruise dock, and there is also some shopping close by the dock. We did know people that went snorkeling close by and seemed to have a good time. PUERTO QUETZAL, Guatemala: In Puerto Questzel we did a Princess "Antigua on Your Own" tour. We usually do not do ship tours, however I had read that there could be some safety/security issues in this area and also it seemed like most prominent areas of interest involved a lengthy drive. So we boarded a bus to Antigua. We had around six hours on our own there. We had a great time. That is a very picturesque town when the drive there showed only 3rd world poverty. This was by far the best shopping. Items to buy were: jade (although I did not think was so cheap, but did a have quite a selection), textiles (I bought a beautiful leather with a woven fabric panel for $140 dollars, there were also table runners, place mats, pouches, purses, bags, cigars, coffee, wood carvings). We had a very nice day, and because we were high in elevation it was cool and comfortable. We were late leaving Antigua and it was 1 1/2 hour drive, but the ship did wait for us. A fun day, but long. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Introduction: We are a family of four, from Texas. This cruise was a gift to us from my in-laws, avid cruisers with 11 Princess cruises under their belt, 21 cruises in all. We were seven altogether. To cut to the chase, this was a ... Read More
Introduction: We are a family of four, from Texas. This cruise was a gift to us from my in-laws, avid cruisers with 11 Princess cruises under their belt, 21 cruises in all. We were seven altogether. To cut to the chase, this was a wonderful cruise, great food, great service, great excursions. Everyone on Princess went out of their way to make our trip memorable. I enjoyed each and every minute of it. December 19, 2009 Precruise We were met by representatives from Princess at the airport who took our bags and we climbed aboard the bus. The airport was farther from the hotel than I imagined from looking at Google Earth. Traffic was slow and uphill, so we were glad to leave the driving to someone else. As we arrived in front of the Grand Hotel, the driver had to make a U-turn on a busy street to drive up the hotel driveway. We left the bus and followed our Princess rep toward the back of the lobby and were greeted by waiters with glasses of something cold and tropical (pineapple and coconut? and non-alcoholic. We sat for an orientation and were advised that we could take an excursion that evening to see the Cliff Divers or wait for a bus tour of the city with cliff divers the next morning. We opted for the next day, got our room keys and went upstairs. We had three rooms on the 18th floor. The view from the balcony was nice -- the beach, the pool. We went to the beach in front of the hotel. It was a cloudy day, so the water was not sparkling blue as you would imagine. After a quick swim, we dressed for dinner. We decided on the downstairs restaurant -- pretty similar to any Mexican food restaurant at home. Not organized as we are used to, but not too dissimilar. We went to buy some wine to take on board, and perhaps some tequila, but I couldn't remember the brands I had heard recommended. Wine was surprisingly more expensive than the same brands at home, and the selection was much less than our regular grocery store. We got some Acapulco t-shirts and magnets and stood for a long time in line to check out. When we checked out with our credit card, we did not understand why we got pesos back and we did not understand the receipt. It looked like we were charged a lot more and got cash back? (Our credit card online showed the correct amount, so still don't understand why we got pesos back.) Warning: our card got frozen by this transaction by the credit card company and our ship charges were denied. We had to call the bank and straighten it out, so it's a good thing to let your credit card company know you'll be charging in a foreign country. Dec. 20, 2009 Acapulco My daughter and I woke up early and sat on the balcony in the pre-dawn darkness. We could hear birds and traffic below. As the sky began to lighten, we could see the Island Princess in the distance. When the rest of the family got up, we had breakfast in the hotel dining room. They gave us a basket with a variety of rolls, pastries and bread -- all excellent, especially the chocolate filled. There was an adult buffet and a smaller version children's buffet with both American and Mexican breakfast foods, as well as a menu. My daughter had the children's buffet and she went back several times for the fresh-squeezed papaya juice. I had a plate of tropical fruit, coffee and bread. We put our suitcases outside of our doors, checked out of the hotel and loaded onto the bus for our city tour. Our guide was 63-year-old Andres, who pointed out all of the homes of celebrities and movie stars. We drove to Los Flamingos Hotel that was owned at one time by Johnny Weismiller and John Wayne. We got out and walked around the paths and stairs, enjoying the spectacular view. Next stop was near the cliff divers to the P&P Jewelry Store for a free drink (beer, margarita, soft drink) and a chance to buy silver or gold jewelry. I realize the sales people work on commission but I do not like to be followed around the store. My husband and daughters were conspiring to buy me something, so I made myself scarce and went outside to take photos of the vendors. They were selling t-shirts, tablecloths, jewelry and other souvenirs. The group then walked to the Mirador Hotel to watch the Cliff Divers. It was very hot as we waited for the show to begin. After the show, we reboarded the bus and went straight to the cruise terminal. Check-in and embarkation was incredibly quick. In fact, my in-laws are 'preferred' and we were able to check in before them. As we stepped aboard and into the atrium, it was shimmering with white lights and garland. We were quickly whisked to the person selling the Ultimate Kid Package (unlimited soda, hot chocolate and mocktails) and the soda card. Everyone but me got the UKP sticker -- I'm not that big of a soda drinker and I'd rather have a real cocktail. Our mini-suite was B218, and we went to look out the balcony. Our room steward, Benedict, immediately welcomed us and offered us a glass of champagne but we were starving and opted to go to the buffet right away. (Benedict was a great room steward -- always seemed to slip in and get our room ready when we were out.) We had a 2 for 1 coupon for the coffee card and purchased two of those on our way to the Horizon Court. Paul found the Princess Pizza near the pool. Back at our room, we unpacked and decorated our door. I went to the Explorer Lounge for the Roll Call Meet and Greet. -------------------- Dinner that night at the Bordeaux Dining Room. We had opted for Anytime Dining as we had several excursions that might have run into the early dinner we were initially assigned. We ran out of time for dessert because of the muster drill and sail away party. We also had to register for the Shockwaves program for our daughters, so we went back later for coffee and dessert. We were glad we had purchased the coffee card as we had latte, cappucino or mocha every morning and every night. December 21, 2009 Huatulco Breakfast in the Horizon Court -- made to order omelets -- as we pulled into Huatulco. We opted not to have an excursion, instead the girls swam in the ocean and when they tired of that they built sandcastles and buried each other in the sand. I was approached by a young woman named Adelaide, who offered me a table, chairs and a beach umbrella. I asked if there was a drink or food minimum and she said no, so I sat down, ordered a Modelo and enjoyed the breeze while watching the girls. Many vendors brought by textiles, jewelry and carvings, none of which I bought, but they were not aggressive and I enjoyed watching them. We went back to the ship for a quick lunch, then found a taxi van to take all of us to the little town of La Cruecita. The town is very clean and has many modern buildings. The square looks like a typical village with a gazebo in the square and a church on one side. The church is beautifully painted inside with a large Virgin of Guadalupe on the ceiling above the center aisle and dark sky and stars above the far aisles. We bought some magnets, Christmas ornaments and t-shirts from a shop on the square. Our taxi came back for us on time, but in the meantime, other drivers had bargained for our business, and we were able to bring the price down. Back on ship, the sea was starting to get rough, the roughest we experienced on the voyage. I went to meet others from the roll call while my husband laid down and tried to feel less motion. I picked up my youngest daughter from the Shockwaves program where she had been coloring a Shockwaves t-shirt. She enjoyed the program, although there was too much other stuff going on for her to want to attend it all the time. We all got dressed for dinner, the first formal night. )While most people looked nice tonight and every night, it was not the huge deal I had read about here on CC. Smart casual was more casual than smart, and no one seemed to mind or be any the worse for it. Definitely not worth stressing over or buying new clothes.) My husband could not eat due to motion sickness and left the table. Both girls felt queasy and took my advice to nibble on crusty rolls and felt better almost immediately, enough to both order a half order of fettuccine. The girls and I left before dessert as we wanted to go to the Champagne Waterfall and then to see Wayne Hoffman, the mentalist and illusionist. I gave him my ring as part of his show and he linked it to two others. His show was great. After the show, we stopped by to see if my husband was feeling any better and wanted to go have dessert with us. He got up and dressed again and we went to the MDR for dessert and coffee. By this time, he was feeling sufficiently hungry that he spied some steak another diner was eating and ordered dinner. You have to love anytime dining! Tuesday, December 22, 2009 Guatemala Breakfast at HC, watching the coastline of Guatemala get closer and closer. At 9:15 met in the Explorer Lounge for excursion to Filadefia Coffee Plantation and Antigua. This was the first of four Princess excursions. The passengers exited the ship on a gangplank, through a "welcome tent" and past vendors with many beautiful items for sale. We were taken to three buses going to Filadelphia, about 1.5 hours away. Our guide was a fairly young man with a good grasp of English and easy to understand. He gave a good talk as we went through the countryside and was available for any questions. When we reached the plantation, the local guide boarded the bus. We stopped first for a quick bathroom break, then reboarded to go to the fields. She explained the coffee grows on lower bushes but is shaded by higher trees. She explained the different layers of the coffee beans, grafting and growing, then harvesting. We reboarded the bus and went back to the processing area to see how the beans are sorted first by washing them, then drying in the sun, hand sorting and finally roasting and packaging. We had lunch on the grounds under a very large tent, such as one would use for a wedding reception outdoors. A mariachi band played and we got our meal: chicken or beef, refried beans, rice, tortillas, chips and guacamole. Dessert was a luscious and light coffee mouse. We had orangeade to drink, and you could purchase a soft drink or beer. Outside of our tent, a male and female mascaradas -- giant puppets -- danced. After lunch, we went to Antigua. Our guide warned us the vendors would be very aggressive and they were - the most aggressive of any on our excursions in Latin American countries. They mobbed the bus as we got off, and it was impossible to hear our guide point out the different things in the plaza as the vendors moved into the crowd and tried to engage everyone to buy their goods. It was sad to see young children hawking goods -- I hope they are normally in school, only here because it is Christmas break. Our guide took us to a jade store/factory/museum and then to a market contained inside a building. Inside the stalls were like mazes. The shop keepers were friendly and had many beautiful items to sell. We returned to the ship in time for dinner -- my appetizer was pineapple and pistachios; mango soup and chicken breast from the "left side" of the menu -- the side that is always available. My husband had the chiappino (sp?), which he pronounced excellent. We went to the Adrian Zmed show at the Universal Lounge. Zmed was a co-star with William Shatner on TJ Hooker, also some guest starring roles such as the Love Boat. They played clips of his career and he good-naturedly made fun of himself now that he's a little older, less hair and a little more out of breath. During one of the numbers, a cast member pulled my 12-year-old daughter onto the floor with a hula hoop. At first she didn't know what to do and then went into action and hula hooped better than anyone to a big round of applause. Wednesday, December 23, 2009 Nicaragua I was awake early because of a cold and unable to sleep much. I went to the HC for coffee and sat on the Lido Deck watching the crew get the area ready for the day. We had breakfast and an early lunch at the HC so we could leave for our excursion to the Masaya Volcano National Park. We took tenders to San Juan del Sur. There were some vendors and dancers, as well as three firemen standing at attention for donations. Very dedicated, those firemen. Our local guide spoke excellent English and was easy to understand. He talked non-stop for 1.5 hours as we drove to the volcano. I looked out the window at the homes and countryside as I listened to him. He told us about the civil wars in the 80s between the Contra and the Sandinistas and related his own personal story that he had been drafted at age 17 by the Sandinistas. At that time, he was in high school and spoke English, having learned it in parochial school at age 12. His parents did not want him to be in the army, but reasoned that his knowledge of English and his education made him a valuable asset. But the Sandinistas wanted him to be "re-educated" and sent him to work in the morgue. Roberto was very passionate about his country and stressed that much has changed since the 80s. He said the country is trying to recover economically and to bring tourism to the country. It was a long 1.5 hour ride to the park -- the only national park in Nicaragua -- I enjoyed looking out the windows so it did not seem as long. If you have children, bring their DS or ipod, or a coloring book. The volcano itself is a large crater with sulfuric smoke. If you are asthmatic, I would not recommend this excursion. Frankly, there is not much to do here -- we peered over the edge, and climbed the stairs for a better look, but that's really it. The bathroom facility is primitive, more like an outhouse. Our guides gave us a snack of a bottle of water, an apple, croissant filled with some type of meat and a bag of corn snacks. We got on the bus and drove a short distance to Catarina, a village with a small market and a nice overview of the two large lakes. We had a beer at the restaurant and used the bathroom. The bathrooms were clean but one lacked toilet paper or a toilet seat. The vendors in the market were not aggressive at all. They had wood carvings, shoes, pottery and other items for safe. These bells were my favorite thing -- I would have purchased them if I thought I could get them home in one piece and not tip the scales on my suitcase. At the crest of the hill, there was a community nativity scene. I liked the fact that the baby had not yet arrived in the manager. We were only here a short time as we had to race back to the ship. On the way back, it became dark and we could see that almost all of the homes had a string or two of Christmas lights, a Christmas tree and a color television set, even though the homes were relatively poor. As it was, we were late to the tenders -- but so were about 1,000 others. The firemen were still there, and other vendors hoping for last minute sales. Back on board, we got in line for dinner outside the Bordeaux. It was the first time we had to wait at all for a table, but then, even the "first seating" diners did, too, as many people came back late from their excursion. We were escorted to a table and our waiter was a young Filipino man named Alvin. He addressed my oldest daugher by name -- he had been in an adjoining section the night before when we had dessert and overheard us calling her by name. He was very friendly to the girls, as was his supervisor, Nelson. They both did magic tricks. The girls loved all the attention and from then on, nothing would do but to be at Alvin's table. December 24, 2009 Costa Rica Again, I awoke too early and went to the HC for coffee and sat on the Lido Deck in the pool area. It was 5 a.m. and a dad brought his two teen-aged sons to swim laps! That's dedication. I moved to the Promenade and watched the crew swapping the decks and wiping the railings. The crew takes an amazing amount of care of the ship. One time we came across an entire group of young men on their knees on the stairs, scrubbing the carpet and getting into the corners of each step. I moved to the Crooner's Lounge and listened to the piped-in music, reflecting how lucky I was to be here. I got up, peered over the rail at the 5th deck of the Atrium and was delighted to see a huge display of gingerbread houses and Santas. I went back to the room and everyone got up and dressed for breakfast in the HC as we had to leave by 7:40 for our excursion to the Original Canopy Adventure zipline. It was already hot and humid. Our guide on the bus was already drenched in sweat. We had a small bus to take us to Mahogany Park for ziplining, about 45 minutes away. The guide told us that Costa Rica was pretty prosperous, due in part to investments in technology and call centers. There is a large middle class, a democratic republic with a balanced social program. The homes we passed seemed to bear him out, as they were small to medium sized, but well maintained with beautiful yards and gardens. Education was free and mandatory with government subsidies for families who couldn't afford to send their children to school. Tourism was also an important industry. As will all the tours we have taken, we felt very welcomed and valuable to the host countries. Our guide stressed that the ziplining was very safe, although not as exciting as some others, but it was safety first. Sounded good to me, as I am not a fan of heights. At Mahogany Park, we first used the rest room -- I mention this because it was very clean (smelled of Lysol!) and there were flush toilets, unlike the day before. We were outfitted with helmets, gloves and harnesses and walked a few minutes down the trail to the first tree we would climb via a metal staircase. The zipline guide explained how to sit, how to hold on to the strap, and how to brake with your hand behind your head. We could see the group ahead of us zipping along the first segment, not far off the ground. So far, so good. The first of seven segments was not too bad, but we landed on a very narrow metal platform, and I had to tippy toe and then pull down the line so the guide could release my pulley. There were plenty of guides, all about 20 years old, and we were tethered at all times by a safety line, but it was a little disconcerting if you are not a fan of heights. We made our way around the tree to the next zipline segment. We were filmed the entire time by the park still photographer and videographer. By the third segment, our 9-year-old was hysterical. The tree was very high up -- about 60 feet -- and the chasm seemed very great. We had to make our way around the tree again to zip off. She was screaming uncontrollably and I wasn't doing too well myself. (BTW, there were other children on the tour and none of them had any problems.) There was no way down except to zip down. At the end of the zipline, we got a bottle of cold water, much needed, took off our equipment, and walked 15 minutes to the base where we had the chance to buy the video of our experience (we did). Having survived once, I think I could do it again... The video does not look at high as it did in real life! Back on the ship, we had lunch and I took the girls to the pool to cool off. There were plenty of chairs available, and the pool was not crowded. After the pool, the girls wanted to play shuffleboard, so we went to the back of the ship where the shuffleboard was. They played a bit and then played checkers using the giant chess set since they don't know how to play chess. Dinner time at the Bordeaux. We were not able to get Alvin as his section was full. The waiter we did get seemed a bit preoccupied, I'm glad we had not been assigned to him for the entire cruise. I had the tropical fruit soup (really, it's a smoothie!) and fettuccine with a mocha and cherries jubilee for dessert. After a long day and full meal, we were sleepy and decided to call it a day. Christmas Day at Sea I woke up early and went to the balcony to see the first light. There, arching from the sea beside the ship, was the most beautiful and most vivid rainbow I've ever seen. Breakfast at HC and then met the family in the Wheelhouse to open presents. We were not the only ones with this idea -- the other large, extended family was very organized and had planned out their Christmas morning with stockings hung up, hot chocolate ordered and pastries delivered! We overheard them reading scripture and singing Christmas carols. Nice! We just drew up some chairs for the seven of us. Grandma and Grandpa spoiled everyone as usual, more than I anticipated as they already spoiled us by giving us the cruise as a Christmas gift! After opening gifts, we went to the Atrium, which was awash in red balloons and streamers in addition to the Christmas decorations already in place. There were tables set up for decorating cookies, tattoos, coloring, making buttons. And of course, Santa arrived down the elevator and was enthroned on the landing with the Youth program direct assisting him in giving out a package to every child that contained a Princess teddy bear. For lunch, we went to the Bayou Cafe for British Pub Lunch. I had the cottage pie, others in our group had fish and chips or bangers and mash. Food was good and hot! More swimming, shuffleboard and checkers in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we were not at Alvin's station as we could not make reservations on Christmas.We went to the comedy show with Billy Vader. We left after a few minutes because it was not appropriate for kids (and not labeled as such anywhere). December 26, 2009 The Panama Canal I was more excited about the Panama Canal than a kid getting up to check for Santa's arrival. My husbnad and I walked forward on the Caribe deck, there were only a couple of others out there as we approached Panama City and the Bridge of the Americas. We saw the pilot's ship and as it began to get lighter, got the girls out of bed to witness the Mira Flores locks. They were somewhat interested but it is a long process to go through each lock. We walked around the ship to see the locks at different perspectives and then had breakfast in the HC where we could hear the commentary. We sat on the deck chairs on the promenade as we cruised slowly through the channel. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful. We watched as the channel opened up into Gatun Lake and then the last locks appeared. We went back to the front of the ship to watch as we went through the locks. There was a green container ship beside us and we waved to the crew as they watched from their ship. We also noticed a road in front of the last lock that cars and buses were passing over and we wondered how that would work. When the gates opened the bridge swung to the side as well. Very interesting! We docked at Colon and there was a huge line to disembark. It moved very quickly and we wandered around the handicrafts and souvenirs. There were tribal people selling their wares, clad in loincloths and tattoos. We had a tropical smoothie blended for us at one of the stalls. After dinner, the girls and I went to see "Do You Wanna Dance" show featuring the Princess singers and dancers in a variety of dance styles and songs. We enjoyed it very much December 27, 2009 Sea Day We had breakfast at the Bordeaux with many waiters at our beck and call, and it was quiet and elegant as compared with the rushed breakfast in the HC. Alvin and Nelson fussed over the girls, bringing them pots of hot chocolate. After breakfast, we carted our laundry to the self-service laundromat on the Baja deck. We were able to use four washers at once and got our laundry done in record time. We enjoyed chatting with the other people who were doing laundry as well. Our daughters went with their grandfather to play Monopoly in the game room and my husband and I had a chance to visit with his mom until it was time to go to the youth program Talent Show in the Universal Lounge. My youngest daughter's part was in the Air Guitar number. The kids all had fun -- some hip hop dancing, some karaoke, some singing -- and everyone got a nice Princess Cruises medal at the end. My husband and I and my in-laws attended the Captain's Circle reception. Waiters carried around trays of drinks -- I had some champagne -- and my father-in-law remarked it was the best Captain's Circle reception they had attended (my inlaw's have 11 Princess cruises). From there, off to dinner. I had roasted tomato soup and lobster and prawns. Alvin expertly freed the lobster from the shell, then did some magic tricks with cups and croutons. He and Nelson kept the girls supplied with hot chocolate and banana-chocolate milkshake for my brother-in-law. Entertainment tonight was Motor City with the dancers and singers.My 12 year old was surprised to find out she knew about 80% of the Motown Sound. It was well done, even better than the night before. December 28, 2009 Jamaica I woke up with a terrible headache -- combination of sinus and migraine -- but got up and went to the HC for early breakfast. We were leaving by 7:20 for Dunn River Falls and Mystic Mountain Chairlift. Instead of meeting in one of the ship lounges, we all spilled out onto the pier and were greeted by an army of Jamaican women in white blouses and blue skirts (and incredibly, some in high heels!) We finally all got sorted out and boarded our bus. Our guide was Shanae, our driver was Dudley and our bus was Number 24. We had to repeat that several times. It was 1.75 hours to Ochos Rios, and we were supposed to be back by 1:30 p.m. Shanae pointed out the various golf courses and resorts, then sang the Jamaican national anthem and recited the national pledge. She is obviously very proud of her country. We arrived at Dunn River Falls and quickly took off shorts and tops and put on water shoes. Shanae gave us the usual warnings about not getting sidetracked by vendors and gave us a few Jamaican phrases. At the falls, we were handed over to two guides named Paul and Lopez who walked down to the beach, took charge of anyone's camera, and told us to hold hands up the falls. Some places were deep, or had hidden pitfalls, some places the water rushed forcefully. Rachel got scared at one point, but got over that and didn't want to leave to use the stairs. She was thrilled to make it to the top. I fell at one point in one of the aforementioned pitfalls and scraped by shin but no big deal. The guides took video and wanted $40 for it (hint -- don't do it -- buy the Princess video instead). Take some bills in your swim trunks to tip your guide or they will follow you to the bus! A few moments later, we drove to Mystic Mountain and ascended on the chairlift which accommodates 4 people. I had read reviews saying too noisy with the road below but I thought that was an extremely minor thing. We were very high up over the tree tops with a spectacular view of the bay. (And yet, I said to myself, what am I doing here? I get scared on ferris wheels!) At the top, we had lunch, which was included in our tour, jerk chicken, fries, macaroni salad and a soft drink. Unfortunately, we were running way behind, so we scarfed down the food, took a quick look through the window and jumped on the chairlift going down. I actually loved the going down part -- much closer to the ground and much cooler. We were late getting back (and very glad the tour was booked through Princess, so no worries) -- almost an hour late. It's just too much to do in the time allotted. The tour dispatcher was in constant communication with Shanae and sent a police escort to get us through the afternoon traffic. This didn't do much for my headache, but I'm glad I went on the tour. Dave took the girls for a while and I laid down after taking two Excedrin Migraine tabs. Felt better and had dinner. I had goat cheese souffle and pork tenderloin with a cocoa rub, which I have to say was my least favorite -- I should have had the lamb, which Dave said was excellent. Dessert was a raspberry mouse and a hazlenut mouse with cake between. (Too much headache meds, I'm a little fuzzy on the specifics.) After dinner, we went to the ventriloquist show while the girls played more Monopoly with Grandpa. Sorry to say, I found him not to be entertaining at all and we left. I was sound asleep by 8:30. December 29, 2009 At Sea It's my Birthday! All seven of us went to breakfast in the MDR to enjoy the fabulous service of Alvin and Nelson. We asked Alvin how he manages to wait tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He said he goes to bed about 12 or 1, and sleep a few hours before getting up for breakfast service. Takes a nap before lunch, and one afterwards. He was looking resplendent in his white coat with gold and blue braided epaulets; Nelson was wearing a blue jacket designating him as a supervisor. At 9, I scurried off to the Lotus Spa for my massage, my birthday gift from Dave and Norene. I was still feeling the effects of the headache as well as the migraine meds, but after the massage with Grace, I felt 100 percent better. She recommended I have a massage at least once a month at home since I was showing signs of very tense muscles (imagine that, since I had been off of work and off the computer for 10 days!). I then rushed over to the Princess Theater, where I caught the last of the "Hilarious Cooking Show" staring the dining room maitre d's and chef's. Unfortunately I missed most of it, but saw Jorge of the Horizon Court sing a wonderful rendition of "My Way." The show concluded with everyone singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and those words were never truer! The family said it was a great show. At the conclusion, the entire audience (and it was SRO) filed out and went to tour the galley. I saw Nelson standing at the back of the theater, and he walked arm in arm with Rachel as they toured the galley. We again had pub food at the Bayou Cafe and the girls again went to play Monopoly with Dave in the card room. There were many families in there -- the sedate bridge players must have been scared off. Paul and I packed up our suitcases and found we needed to buy another bag at the giftshop to accommodate all the new t-shirts, magnets and Christmas presents. We finished up and sat in the Pastriesse (sp?) for a drink before Paul headed for a nap and I played Scrabble with the girls. The card room was completely filled, so we took our game to the Crooner's Lounge, as did a couple of others. Dinner was the American theme. The waiters had on red, white and blue vests. Stephanie pointed out Alvin's bowtie was not lined up with his vest, so they helped him right it. December 30, 2009 We had one last breakfast with Alvin and Nelson (they were like part of the family by now), arriving before the doors of the dining room opened at 6:30. We said our goodbyes, not only to the waiters and our cabin steward, but to Dave, Norene and Brian as they would head to Miami and then to California while we went back to Texas. Disembarkation, Customs and Immigration were incredibly fast -- we were in and out in 15 minutes! Fort Lauderdale Airport, not so much, but we had a wonderful time. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
We boarded the Island Prince on December 20th for a full transit of the Panama Canal. The Island Princess is beautiful ship. She will benefit from her upcoming dry dock in terms of some cosmetics, but the layout is very good. There are ... Read More
We boarded the Island Prince on December 20th for a full transit of the Panama Canal. The Island Princess is beautiful ship. She will benefit from her upcoming dry dock in terms of some cosmetics, but the layout is very good. There are lots of open spaces to relax and it never seemed very crowded, no small feat considering our cruise was a "sold out" Christmas cruise. We had a mini-suite on the aft Dolphin Deck. It was spacious and the balcony was excellent. We had four chairs and a table and lots of privacy. When weren't in port we spent most of our time sitting on the balcony enjoying the warm sea air. Our cabin steward was excellent and was eager to please. The dining was excellent. We had the Traditional late seating and thoroughly enjoyed the food, service, and our table mates. We did the Chef's Table which was an outstanding experience. We had an Ultimate Balcony dinner, which was worth every penny. We also ate in the Bayou, but weren't all that impressed with the service. We are a couple in our early 50s and we weren't sure we would like cruising but the Island princess changed our minds. We had a fabulous time! Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
This was our 4th cruise, 2 with Carnival and 2 with Princess. We definitely like Princess and will cruise with them from now on. The Island Princess is smaller of course to go through the locks of the Panama Canal, but still everything a ... Read More
This was our 4th cruise, 2 with Carnival and 2 with Princess. We definitely like Princess and will cruise with them from now on. The Island Princess is smaller of course to go through the locks of the Panama Canal, but still everything a person needs for the best cruising experience. There was my husband and I, and our daughter of 26 years old, and we all had a great time, because there was a very good variety of different ages on board. There's so many things to get involved in, which is what we did; such as trivia, dance lessons, singing, drink mixing, sail away parties, toga party, even midnight mass Christmas eve, etc., as many or as few that you want to be involved in. We were involved with as many things as possible, but still felt like we had the most relaxing time of our lives. The cruise staff was so nice and friendly that they made you feel like getting involved, welcomed, and we became like family. We knew them by name and they knew us too. The ports of call were very nice, but most of the tours were a 90 minute drive one way, so we mainly went to the beach on our own at each port and enjoyed a local brewed beer from every country. In Costa Rica we did a private tour, which I posted on trip advisor. Nicaragua there is a hidden place called Pelican Eyes Resort that you can hike up to that let Ship customers use their facilities, and its very beautiful with beautiful views of the ocean.We highly recommend this cruise even over the holidays because everything was decorated so beautifully and everyone was in the Christmas Spirit!     Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Wow...where to begin? I thought things would be more complicate than they were and was happy to be wrong. I want to personally commend Suzan Kent at Princess for all her cheerful and informative help. Thank you Suzan. You are a jewel in ... Read More
Wow...where to begin? I thought things would be more complicate than they were and was happy to be wrong. I want to personally commend Suzan Kent at Princess for all her cheerful and informative help. Thank you Suzan. You are a jewel in the Princess lines crown. Embarkation was far faster and easier than I had expected and we were aboard in matter of 20 minutes or so with the only real delay being that we showed up later than we had planned. (1pm) Our stuff got to our room without a hitch and in a reasonable time. We had an inside cabin on Baja deck (11) and it was roomy and comfortable. Our Cabin steward was Luis and he was EXCELLENT and always cheerful and helpful. If you get him you will do well. Muster drill was no big deal and over with quickly so that we could get on with the sailaway. My wife and I stood on the Sun deck and watched us exit the port as we called our 3 grown sons to say we had arrived safely and would call them when we got back. From then on the phone was nothing but an alarm clock, and good riddance. We went to the Horizon Court for a late lunch and the Rockfish they served was delicious. I recommend that you go in and wander around the area before grabbing your plate so you have some clue where everything is as with 50 or 60 people all trying to get their food it can be a little confusing. Once that is done you should be able to navigate it without a problem. There is nothing not good in there, though some things may not be something that appeals to you personally. Like your Mama told you as a kid, "Take a little of everything and try it and then go back for what you liked." I did and found favorites all over the place. BTW, for my fellow Southerners out there, they DO indeed have grits on the breakfast buffet. Look for 'em. We discovered that we liked the tables right at the front of the ship, especially for breakfast which we made at sunrise every day of the cruise. WELL worth it! We were also able to sit there and watch (and photograph) a huge rainbow that the ship actually sailed through. That became a highlight for us. Dinner we had anytime dining in the Bordeaux room and they were great. I HIGHLY recommend table 67 where the three guys there gave us the best and friendliest service I have ever had ANYWHERE. They are outstanding! Two of the guys are named Arnel and Pepe and I apologize for forgetting the third man's name because these fellows DESERVE to be commended by name. Be sure to tip them well. They will deserve it. I did my part to decimate the lobster population on the nights it was offered and the baked Alaska on the last night was delicious. I also recommend the "Love Boat Dream" which is a "death by chocolate" treat. Steaks were excellent as was the seafood. Try the escargot too. I did, and it was very good. I'd eat it again anytime. By all means take any of the dance classes offered while aboard. James and Natasha were a blast and they even helped an uncoordinated guy like me pick up the beginnings of the Cha Cha. DEFINITELY go to the port shopping seminar and get that coupon book. It's worth it just to get the Del Sol bag that changes colors in the sun and all te freebies that Jay gives away. The 2nd full day at sea we had some 5-7 ft seas and you could feel it a bit, but it was nothing serious. It rocked us to sleep every night and that was good. Unless you are someone who is ordinarily subject to motion sickness, (In other words...you can't even a read a book while riding in a car.) you should have no problems at all. We didn't. Looking out at the Caribbean as we sailed along I was reminded of the classic last part of Stephen King's "The Shawshank Redemption" where Red speaks of the blue of the Pacific in his dreams. I can tell you that that beautiful blue Caribbean water will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. As I sit here typing this I can still see it in my mind and wistfully wish I was there still. The shows were good. We saw Adrian Zmed, Carl Strong, and the 60's dance party and enjoyed them all. Oh! A very special note of excellence to the WONDERFUL classical trio that played in the atrium. The piano, flute and violin were amazing. Your rendition of the Ave Maria was so beautiful that I found myself hearing the Latin prayer as you played. I encourage everyone to take the time to just sit and enjoy these 3 lovely and talented ladies whenever you have a chance. The various shows and displays in the atrium where very good. I recommend the one with all the bartenders. Be sure to volunteer to get those free drinks. The appletini I got was worth the silliness I had to perform. I would highly recommend the Island Princess to anyone who has a chance to sail on her. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
In November 2009 we spent 10-days on the Island Princess cruising to the Panama Canal. We sailed from Ft Lauderdale across the Caribbean to Aruba, west to Cartagena Columbia, thru the first 3 steps of the Panama Canal and into Lake Gatun ... Read More
In November 2009 we spent 10-days on the Island Princess cruising to the Panama Canal. We sailed from Ft Lauderdale across the Caribbean to Aruba, west to Cartagena Columbia, thru the first 3 steps of the Panama Canal and into Lake Gatun (Gat-tune), backtracked to Colon Panama, sailed west to Port Limon Costa Rica, went NW across the Caribbean to Ocho Rios Jamaica, around Cuba and back to Ft Lauderdale. We booked late and ended up with a balcony on Deck 12. We are keen bird watchers and used the balcony mostly to look for Ocean birds. With temps in the mid 80sF, we could be on the balcony a lot. We selected this trip primarily because it went into the Panama Canal. Some cruises just stop at Colon Panama since it costs big bucks for a cruise ship to pass thru the Panama Canal. Birding Summary We saw 109 bird species in 6 countries on the 10-day cruise: City Country # Birds Ft Lauderdale US 9 Oranjestad Aruba 23 Cartagena Columbia 19 Colon Panama 26 Puerto Limon Costa Rica 46 Ocho Rios Jamaica 32 Total 109 36% of the birds we saw can normally be seen in the US. 46% are never seen in the US. The remaining 18% are uncommon to very rare in the US. A few birds like Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Royal Terns were seen at all ports. However, 81% of the 109 bird species were only seen once. We saw 16 endemic bird species on the trip, all from Jamaica. In Jamaica we were able to find a birding guide - Wendy Lee @ wendylee@cwjamaica.com 876-973-4305. Wendy runs the Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife in Runaway Bay, and is a volunteer Game Warden. She is a native of the islands, has a Master's Degree in Biology from the University of Florida. She is of English decent and really knows the birds, butterflies and flowers of the island. Embarkation and Disembarkation We drove to Ft Lauderdale and stayed at the Comfort Inn in Hollywood on Stirling Avenue. We could leave our car here for $6 a day and get a free bus to the Cruiseport. Great idea! Lots of people stay here the night before going on a cruise. We got to the Cruiseport at 11:30am, and by 11:45 we were eating in the Buffet. This is first time it really helped to be a Platinum member of the Captain's Circle. However, our 3 pieces of luggage didn't show up till 6pm. Princess was well organized to get people off the ship, but the luggage area was a zoo. Gold 1 thru 6 luggage tags were supposed to be in separate areas, but the luggage was all thrown together. This was the worst experience we have had finding our bags while getting off a ship. We had a free bus back to the hotel, but many people were waiting for the same bus, so we took a taxi back for $25. The bus got to the hotel 1.5 hrs after we did - we had already been to the beach and back. Cabin We had a balcony cabin on the Port side of Deck 12 (A304). The room was pretty standard with lots of storage. The bed was very hard and by 2am your back would be hurting (we heard other passengers make the same comment). We didn't use the balcony as much as on other cruises because of smokers in other cabins around and below us polluted the air to the point we couldn't stay out. Also, the people next to our cabin talked so loud you didn't want to be out when they were around - you could even hear them thru the walls. Some of the cabin furnishings were in need of replacement; i.e., the bedspread had cigarette holes , the duvet was ripped in several areas, and the refrigerator didn't get things very cool. We normally stay on Deck 5 or 6. I can't see how being on Deck 12 was any upgrade from Deck 5 - I wouldn't pay more to be higher up on the ship. Princess must be assigning more rooms to each Cabin Stewart. Our Stewart worked pretty fast, but it still took him a long time to get to our room most days. It didn't used to be that way. We got good Internet reception in our room (free because we're Platinum). The Port side balconies are best for birdwatching going from the Atlantic to Pacific thru the Panama Canal, but the best side for seeing the operation of the locks is on the Starboard side. No one had been smoking in our cabin before we arrived Nov 20. I feel sorry for whoever got cabin A622 on the Nov 30 cruise - we had to hold our nose in the hall as we walked past that room because of the stench of smoke. There is no way to know if your room will smell bad or not - it's Russian Roulette with cigarette smoke. However, if you get a room where someone has been smoking - Complain immediately!!! We did that on a cruise to Antarctica and they shampooed the floors, washed the walls and ceiling, and changed all the linens the next day. Food & Drinks We had one Br, one Lu, and one Dn in the dinning room. Br was OK. The Lu and Dn Dinning Room choices were pretty mediocre, even by cruise standards. A restaurant would soon go out of business with these uninteresting menu selections and tasteless choices. We ate most of our meals in the Buffet on Deck 14 Forward. They had a bigger selection than the Dinning Room, plus you could see what you were getting (helps me a lot). You could always make a vegetable salad for Lu or Dn. There were always lots of rolls to choose from and real butter. There was always some type of fresh cut meat, but the pork was not cooked hot enough so we didn't eat it. The curry dishes were always good. The freshly made pasta dishes were usually bland (they use very weak Pesto). I learned a long time ago that the desserts were going to be bad on cruise ships. The Island Princess was no exception! Their sorry imitation of Key Lime Pie was especially bad. The best thing we found was the Oatmeal & Raisin cookies. On the last day at sea they had a Chocolate Buffet at Noon. The timing was better than the late night dessert buffets I have seen on other ships, but the cakes were dry and bad - I did like the strawberries dipped in white chocolate I got off a piece of cake. The coffee was bad in the Dinning Room and Buffet - they must use instant coffee. To get fresh brewed coffee you have to buy a coffee card ($27 for 15 cups) and get coffee from the Bar - the Cappuccinos and Frappuccinos were good. We brought our own coffee, a small "coffee by the cup" coffee maker, and made our own coffee in the room by getting hot water and cream from the Buffet. The Ice Tea in the Buffet is made from syrup and has a funky celery taste - much better to make your own hot tea from bags and pour on ice. They have a variety of tea bags, but we brought our own Chai Tea. The Lemonade in the Buffet was great with lots of lemon pulp in it. My wife ordered a Margarita during the Mexican Buffet. It came in a small glass and tasted like water, but cost $5.50. She complained to the area supervisor. Pretty soon they brought a much larger drink that tasted like a Margarita and cost $7.76. The waiter said the first drink was the House Margarita and the second was a 24K Margarita, but no one told us there was an option when we first ordered. In the Buffet you can dress casual or even wear shorts for Dn. You can usually eat in 20 to 30 minutes with no waiting for a table for 2. Public Areas We avoided the public areas as much as possible because of the stench of cigarette and cigar smoke. Princess encourages people to smoke cigars at the Churchill Bar on Deck 7, but this contributes greatly to the overall stench of the public areas on Decks 5, 6 and 7. We never went in the Casino on Deck 6 because of the strong smell of smoke. The Wheelhouse Bar of Deck 6 Midship was large, comfortable and smoke free. We enjoyed the private Spa (limited to 20 couples a day) with 4 hot stone beds, 3 steam rooms and 1 dry sauna on Deck 14 Aft. It's a great place to spend sea days and the afternoons of port days - especially since it is No-Smoking! The Rainforest showers are very large with lots of water (in case you don't like the small showers in the cabins). We thought it was well worth the $199! We used the Sanctuary on the day we went thru the Panama Canal. It was probably not worth $70 per person, especially since someone was smoking a cigar on one of the balconies on Deck 12 Aft that wafted up to the Sanctuary. I did get some good pictures of the locks from the Sanctuary as we sailed back toward Colon (but you could get the same pictures from the basketball court on Deck 15). They have removed the freestanding smoke stands from the Promenade Deck and from the elevator areas. This seemed to reduce the number of people smoking on the Promenade Deck, but sometimes people with cigars would congregate there anyhow, even though the Princess handbook in each cabin specifically requests that no cigars or pipes be smoked anywhere on the ship except the Churchill Bar. The handbook also says some areas are marked Non Smoking, but we never saw any signs. The Internet area on Deck 8 was smaller than we had seen on other ships, but we got great Internet coverage in our cabin. We got 250 minutes free since we are Platinum members. Shore Excursions We only took a ship's shore excursion in Cartagena Columbia because of safety concerns. It turns our there was nothing to be concerned about. The tour spent 45 minutes at an Emerald store (we didn't buy any). We should have gotten a taxi on our own at the Port to take us to the impressive Fort and Old Town. At every port, it was possible to get tours at substantially reduced prices from the ship's Shore Excursions. Highlights Finding a beach in Aruba near the ship with lots of Beach Glass. Finding a Mask Boobie rookery on some small islands 3-hours west of Aruba. Finding a store that sold Aguadiente (Fire Water) in Cartagena. Seeing a flock of Keel-billed Toucans and a Black-mandibled Toucan while approaching the Panama Canal. Seeing a pair of Crested Caracaras, a Yellow-headed Caracara, and a Fork-tailed Flycatcher while in the Panama Canal. Hearing "Kiss-K-dee" everywhere in Port Limon Costa Rica and seeing 5 Kiskadee and Flycatcher species around town, finding a gorgeous Montezuma Oropendola in the suburbs, seeing a Violaceous Trogon and 3 Tanager species in the Rainforest, and getting a good enough photo to identify the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer hummingbird. Birding the Prospect Plantation near the Port in Ocho Rios Jamaica for 4 hours and seeing 16 endemic bird species, including the very long-tailed Red-billed Streamertail hummingbirds, Lizard-Cuckoo, Northern Potoo, Jamaican Woodpecker, Stripe-headed Tanagers and Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo. Walking 4 to 6 miles a day on the Promenade Deck. Relaxing on the heated stone beds of the private Spa. Disappointments The trip was too rushed, with barely enough time in most Ports to take some short shore trips and shop. There was never any local entertainment at night, as we have seen on other South America cruises. The Sanctuary didn't add enough value to justify the cost. The pool should have been a large mineral-water hot tub like on the Pacific Princess. Not being able to get off the ship at the Yacht Club (9.262N 79.916W) after passing thru the Panama Canal. I found a bird guide in Panama (Gonzalo Horna at gonzalohorna@hotmail.com), but Princess said he would not be allowed to pick us up at the Yacht Club. Columbia has an impressive bird list, but we couldn't find any birding guides in Cartagena. If I Could Do It Over I Would Consider going on Celebrity since they don't allow smoking in the cabins or on the balconies. The buzz on Island Princess was that Celebrity had better food. Celebrity stops in Colon all day so you could arrange for a bird guide. I choose to go on Princess because it goes through the Panama Canal. We would probably have had a better experience of Panama by finding a guide and go birding all day. Going through the Panama Canal turned out to be mostly a memorial service for the 23,000 people who died constructing the facilities by the overly talkative Dr. Ryan. Not take any formal clothing. This would have allowed us to do the early morning walk-off Disembarkation. Special Comments Nov 23 Monday Aruba We were off ship at 7am (84F). We found a driver on the street that would take us to the Bubali Bird Sanctuary (12.562N 70.048W) for $40/hr (Regmy Dubero streetzaruba@hotmail.com 297-593-3551). We found some good water birds including a Sora. Regmy spotted 2 pairs of Brown-throated Parakeets for us. We only stayed 1 hour and saw 16 birds. If you put the above Lat & Longs into Google Earth you can see the location I am discussing. Typically, there are lots of pictures. Regmy said it would take 40 minutes to drive to the Arikok NP one-way. The drivers at the Port said you couldn't go to Spanish Lagoon. Back at the Port you could get a 2 hr tour of the islands for $10pp on a school type bus. Princess charges $64 for a 3 hr tour using the same type of open-air school bus. Near the Port we went looking for beach glass on the small beach we could see from our balcony. We got heaps (about a quart) of good beach glass including a nice piece of blue and a small piece of yellow. At 2:55pm (while walking after the ship left Port) we saw our first ocean bird at Sea - a Masked Booby who circled the ship for half hr and dive-bombed fish. We also saw 8 dolphines surfing the boat midship - one jumped from wave to wave. Later there were 16-Masked Boobie on our side of the ship plunge diving for fish. Finally, one Brown Booby showed-up. They all probably came from some small volcanic peaks we saw this afternoon. We saw 23 bird species today, including: Bird Location Black-faced Grassquit Port Brown-throated Parakeet Bubali Bird Sanctuary Neotropic Cormorant Bubali Bird Sanctuary Tropical Mockingbird Bubali Bird Sanctuary Nov 24 Tuesday Cartagena We saw 19 bird species around town including: Name Location Mottle-backed Elaenia Old Town Red-crowned Woodpecker Old Town Rufous-tailed Hummingbird Old Town White-throated Kingbird Old Town Caribbean Martin Old Town Velvet-fronted Grackle Old Town Neotropic Cormorant Port White-winged Swallow Port Nov 25 Wed Panama Canal We saw 26 bird species today including: Name Park Neotropic Cormorant Approaching PC going toward Pacific Keel-billed Toucan Approaching PC going toward Pacific Crested Caracara Approaching PC going toward Pacific Yellow-headed Caracara In PC going toward Pacific Ringed Kingfisher In PC going toward Pacific Fork-tailed Flycatcher In PC going toward Pacific Red-lored Parrot Departing PC going toward Atlantic Tropical Kingbird Departing PC going toward Atlantic It rains here about every day. They get 237" of rain per year. It rained about 11am with some strong wind for 10 minutes. Things got pretty wet. Something to think about if you decide to go on a tour. The only bridge across the Canal on the Atlantic side is a "telescoping bridge" across both lock chambers that is only operational a few minutes each hour; i.e., when there is no boats in both chambers. Long delays are likely for some of the ship tours that have to use this bridge. On average, 43 ships a day go thru the PC. It costs $100 per bed for cruise ships to go thru the PC. It costs about $4 per ton for cargo ships. It takes 8 hrs to go from Atlantic to Pacific. A few hundred people work at each locks, but 8000 people work around the clock to keep the shipping lane thru Lake Gatun (Gat-tune) open. Thanksgiving Nov 26 Limon, Costa Rica We got off the ship at 7am. We found a taxi at the Port (9.984N 83.019W) for $30/hr with a driver that spoke English and knew some birds - Holme Samuels (Sam), PO Box 402, Limon CR (he worked for Trans OBM DEL Caribe - transobmdelcaribe@hotmail.es 2798-07-08. We drove around town and Sam found a Montezuma Oropendola (large bird with yellow tail and black & orange beak) in a tall tree on a back street. We stopped at Playa Bonita (10.010N 83.063W) and found 3 types of shore birds & a Snail Kite. We stopped on a one-lane bridge (9.999N 83.080W) over the Toruguero Canal and found a Northern Jacana, .a.k.a. Jesus Bird. Sam said they also have the Jesus Christ Lizard that can walk on water also. Sam got us a 1 hr Toruguero Canal (9.998N 83.086W) tour for $20pp (it costs $69 from ship) on a small/fast boat with one other couple. We saw 2 Slothes and got to hold a Cayman, but didn't see any unusual birds Sam drove us to the suburb of La Bomba to drive thru the Rainforest (9.912N 83.066W). We found a toucan and several tanagers near the resort that does Zip Line trips. We were back to the ship at 12:30pm. After Lu we went to the Vargas Parque (9.993N 83.024W) across the street from the Cruise Port (2 minute walk from ship). We saw a Sloth in a tree and a Clay-colored Robin - the national bird of Costa Rica. We walked to the Central Market on 2nd Av. Interesting area, but the market itself was smelly, so we returned to ship. We saw 46 bird species today in 6 locations around town: Name Park Magnificent Frigatebird Port Common Tern Port Royal Tern Port Ringed Kingfisher Port Brown Pelican Port Black Vulture Port Montezuma Oropendola Playa Bonita area Snail Kite Playa Bonita area Spotted Sandpiper Playa Bonita area Pectoral Sandpiper Playa Bonita area Grey Plover (Black-billed Plover) Playa Bonita area Semipalmated Plover Playa Bonita area Acadian Flycatcher Playa Bonita area White-ringed Flycatcher Playa Bonita area Social Flycatcher Playa Bonita area Grey-capped Flycatcher Playa Bonita area Great Kiskadee Playa Bonita area Variable Seedeater Playa Bonita area Ruddy Turnstone Playa Bonita area Yellow-throated Vireo Playa Bonita area Blue-black Grassquit Playa Bonita area Northern Jacana Toruguero Canal bridge Reddish Egret Toruguero Canal bridge Green Heron Toruguero Canal bridge Blue-and-white Swallow Toruguero Canal tour Ruddy Ground-Dove Toruguero Canal tour Snowy Egret Toruguero Canal tour Little Blue Heron Toruguero Canal tour Great Blue Heron Toruguero Canal tour Great Egret Toruguero Canal tour Violaceous Trogon La Bomba Rainforest Scarlet-rumped Tanager La Bomba Rainforest White-winged Tanager La Bomba Rainforest Blue-grey Tanager La Bomba Rainforest Summer Tanager La Bomba Rainforest Olive-backed Euphonia La Bomba Rainforest Louisiana Waterthrush La Bomba Rainforest Stripe-breasted Wren La Bomba Rainforest Blue-black Grosbeak La Bomba Rainforest Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer (hummingbird) La Bomba Rainforest Groove-billed Ani La Bomba Rainforest Cattle Egret La Bomba Rainforest Clay-colored Thrush Vargas Parque Red-eyed Vireo Vargas Parque Red-lored Parrot Vargas Parque Great-tailed Grackle Vargas Parque Sam knew where to go to find birds. It is surprising there were no real bird guides in Limon for the number of good birds that can be seen. Nov 28 Sunday Ocho Rios, Jamaica We met Wendy Lee (wendylee@cwjamaica.com 876-973-4305), our birding guide for the day, at 9:30am. Wendy runs the Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife in Runaway Bay, and is a volunteer Game Warden. She is a native of the islands and really knows the birds. We went to the Prospect Plantation (18.404N 77.112W) to go birding. The Plantation is only a quarter-mile walk from the Port, or 1 mile by car using the one-way city streets. You could easily walk there from the ship, but the Plantation won't let individuals in to walk around - they only have group tours by tractor pulled wagons and on camelback. Wendy has an agreement with the manager to take birders on private tours at the Plantation. We walked the shaded roads of the Plantation for 4 hours and saw 29 bird species, including 16 that endemic to Jamaica. Right off we saw the very long-tailed Red-billed Streamertails and a Lizard-Cuckoo. We found a Northern Potoo sleeping at the top of a termite nest on a tree - it looked like part of the tree. Green-rumped parakeets were easy to see and photograph. The Jamaican Woodpecker and Stripe-headed Tanagers were spectacular. The Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo was massive but beautiful. White-crowned Pigeons are supposed to be uncommon in Jamaica, but there were lots of them here. We heard the knife sharpening sound of the Vervain Hummingbirds (world's second smallest Hummer at 2.5 inches) often and saw some farmed Ostriches (the world's largest bird). Vervain's like to perch in the tops of tall trees and are sometimes hard to see. Wendy said one always perched on an electric line we pass, but today a Kestrel was on the electric pole and the Vervain was no where to be seen. It was sunny and 82F today - that is equivalent to 102F in the shade. By the time we got back to the ship at 1:40pm our clothes were soaked. We were ready for quick Lu in the Buffet followed by a 1.5 hr power nap and an hour in the Spa. From the ship and Plantation we saw 32 bird species today: Name Status Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Endemic Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo Endemic Northern Potoo Endemic Red-billed Streamertail Endemic Jamaican Vervain Hummingbird Endemic Jamaican Woodpecker Endemic Sad Flycatcher Endemic Loggerhead Kingbird Endemic Jamaican Crow Endemic White-chinned Thrush Endemic Stripe-headed Tanager Endemic Orangequit Endemic Jamaican Oriole Endemic Jamaican Euphonia Endemic Jamaican Becard Endemic Jamaican Olive-throated Parakeet Endemic Green-rumped Parrotlet Endemic White-crowned Pigeon Uncommon Brown Pelican Common Magnificent Frigatebird Common Royal Tern Common Cattle Egret Common Turkey Vulture Common Red-tailed Hawk Common American Kestrel Common Zenaida Dove Common Common Ground-Dove Common Northern Mockingbird Common American Redstart Common Prairie Warbler Common Bananaquit Common Ostrich Introduced We saw the Cuban Swallowtail and Jamaican Zebra Broadwing butterflies at the Plantation, and several others we photographed but couldn't identify. From Aruba to Jamaica we saw new birds each day of the cruise: Name Date Observed Destination Park Brown Pelican 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Little Blue Heron 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Magnificent Frigatebird 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Osprey 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Ring-billed Gull 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Royal Tern 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Snowy Egret 11/20/2009 Ft Lauderdale Port Everglades Masked Booby 11/23/2009 Oranjestad At Sea 14:55 on 11/23 Brown Booby 11/23/2009 Oranjestad At Sea 15:52 on 11/23 Bank Swallow 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Blue-winged Teal 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Brown-throated Parakeet 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Common Moorhen 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Great Blue Heron 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Great Egret 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Green Heron 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Neotropic Cormorant 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Palm Warbler 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Ruddy Turnstone 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Sora 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Tricolored Heron 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Tropical Mockingbird 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary White-winged Dove 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Bubali Bird Sanctuary Black-faced Grassquit 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Port House Sparrow 11/23/2009 Oranjestad Port Black Vulture 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Blue-and-yellow Macaw 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Caribbean Martin 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Great-tailed Grackle 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Mottle-backed Elaenia 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Red-crowned Woodpecker 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Rufous-tailed Hummingbird 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Turkey Vulture 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Velvet-fronted Grackle 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town White-throated Kingbird 11/24/2009 Cartagena Old Town Common Tern 11/24/2009 Cartagena Port White-winged Swallow 11/24/2009 Cartagena Port American Kestrel 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Ani 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Black-mandibled Toucan 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Crested Caracara 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Fork-tailed Flycatcher 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Keel-billed Toucan 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Purple Martin 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Reddish Egret 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Red-lored Parrot 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Ringed Kingfisher 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Solitary Sandpiper 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Tropical Kingbird 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Yellow-headed Caracara 11/25/2009 Colon Panama Canal Acadian Flycatcher 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Blue-and-white Swallow 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Blue-black Grassquit 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Blue-black Grosbeak 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Blue-grey Tanager 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Cattle Egret 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Clay-colored Thrush (Robin) 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Great Kiskadee 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Grey Plover (Black-bellied Plover) 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Grey-capped Flycatcher 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Groove-billed Ani 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Louisiana Waterthrush 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Montezuma Oropendola 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Northern Jacana 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Olive-backed Euphonia 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Pectoral Sandpiper 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Red-eyed Vireo 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Ruddy Ground-Dove 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Scarlet-rumped Tanager 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Semipalmated Plover 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Snail Kite 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Social Flycatcher 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Spotted Sandpiper 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Stripe-breasted Wren 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Summer Tanager 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Variable Seedeater 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Violaceous Trogon 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon White-ringed Flycatcher 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon White-winged Tanager 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon Yellow-throated Vireo 11/26/2009 Puerto Limon Puerto Limon American Redstart 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Bananaquit 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Common Ground-Dove 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Green-rumped Parrotlet 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Becard 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Crow 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Euphonia 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Olive-throated Parakeet 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Oriole 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Stripe-headed Tanager 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Vervain Hummingbird 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Jamaican Woodpecker 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Loggerhead Kingbird 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Northern Mockingbird 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Northern Potoo 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Orangequit 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Ostrich 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Prairie Warbler 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Red-billed Streamertail 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Red-tailed Hawk 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Sad Flycatcher 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios White-chinned Thrush 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios White-crowned Pigeon 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Zenaida Dove 28-Nov Ocho Rios Ocho Rios Happy Birding, Carl & Wilma Ball carlball@yahoo.com Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
This was our seventh cruise and the third on Princess Lines. Our goal was to go through the Panama Canal and this fit our plans perfectly. We had a mini suite on deck nine that was beautiful! We live near Ft.Lauderdale so travel was ... Read More
This was our seventh cruise and the third on Princess Lines. Our goal was to go through the Panama Canal and this fit our plans perfectly. We had a mini suite on deck nine that was beautiful! We live near Ft.Lauderdale so travel was not a problem. We arrived at the ship at noon and went right aboard. After lunch at the buffet we returned to our room and found our baggage already there (super fast). We found the ship to be in excellent condition, clean and neat, and we felt the help wanted us on board! We were not pressured to buy extra things like pictures or other services. We liked that after a recent cruise on NCL. Room & Room Service: Our room was large with 2 tvs and a full bath, a nice balcony with four chairs. Our room attendant "Roland" was outstanding! No complaints. Dining & Food ~ We had the anytime dining and ate most of our meals in the Bordeaux Dining Room. I am a seafood nut and I was not disappointed! I had my share of lobster tails, mussels, crab and other seafood delights. I also had the Fillet Mignon's (medallion's) which were available every night. My wife had the beef Wellington and rack of lamb and said they were delicious. There was a wide variety of deserts! Kudos the the dining staff. The head chef and some of his assistants came to our table several times to ask if we were satisfied. We were! Entertainment ~ Overall the entertainment was good! The singers and dancers were excellent. We also watched a football game in the ships lounge on three large wraparound screens. I will not comment on the Ports of call except the Panama Canal. Each port had the usual shopping and tours. We toured Cartagena & Ochoa Rios on our own with the local buses (Much cheaper that the ship tours).. Panama Canal ~ We were up at 5:00 am to watch the approach to the Canal Locks. Transiting through the locks to the Ga tune Lake was something that everyone should get a chance to do in their lifetime. It was awesome! Disembarkment ~ It was a breeze we were off the ship and home by 10:00 am. OVERALL ~ It appears to use that Princess is making a sincere effort to woe travelers. It worked with us and we will return! Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
Island Princess Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.2
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.0 3.9
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 5.0 3.7
Family 4.0 3.7
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.9
Enrichment 3.0 3.8
Service 4.0 4.4
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 4.0 4.1

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